Utah Jazz: Hayward keeps his head during pursuit of playoffs

Published: Wednesday, April 18 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Utah Jazz guard Gordon Hayward (20) gets hit in the throat by Dallas Mavericks center Ian Mahinmi (28) as the Utah Jazz and the Dallas Mavericks play Monday, April 16, 2012 in Salt Lake City.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

PORTLAND, Ore. — Delonte West's finger wasn't the only thing going through Gordon Hayward's mind when that weird incident took place.

Hayward's first thought right after receiving what could be described as a West willy: "Did that really just happen?"

Oddly enough, yep.

And because it did happen Monday in the Jazz's wild triple-overtime win over Dallas, another thought entered Hayward's invaded head.

"I wanted to just fight right there, but you can't do that," Hayward said. "It wouldn't have been a smart idea."

That's kind of like the time the former competitive tennis player resisted retaliating during a match — even after his opponent threw his racket across the net at Hayward for beating him.

"That was an experience I'll never forget of keeping my composure then. We could have just gotten into an all-out fight right there. Things like that aren't worth it," said Hayward, who has another unforgettable experience. "To me, winning the game and competing is much better than settling it right there. I've always just tried to keep my composure."

Keep his composure while trying to make his opponents lose theirs, to be more precise.

Forget the choirboy looks. Hayward's style of play can annoy the heck out of guys guarding the improved offensive player or trying to score on the improved defensive athlete.

That occasionally results in things being sent his direction — a finger or elbow here, a tennis racket or shove there. The Jazz, who play their road-finale in Portland tonight, are likely to benefit if that opponent frustration continues as they keep pushing toward the playoffs.

Nobody admires that more than teammate Raja Bell.

"Gordon's one of those players — and it's a testament to him — he plays hard," Bell said. "He plays tough. He plays physical."

Bell is as aggressive and feisty as anyone in the NBA, so he knows very well that a lot of players aren't particularly fond of that style.

It's also why the veteran shooting guard thinks Hayward is as sly as a fox by his physical play, which some might not expect because of his boyish looks.

"You can get into people's head real quick when you do that," Bell said. "He's able to keep his cool while others around him are kind of losing their stuff because of the physicality of the game, so that's an advantage for him."

West was given a technical foul after the referees conferred about the second-quarter incident, and some argue he deserved to be ejected (or at least get a noogie in return).

"I'm a competitor. I play physically out there," Hayward said. "I'm going to fight for position, not back down and ... I don't think a lot of guys like that."

West jokingly claimed he was trying to remove lint off of Hayward's head. Then he teased about giving him a wet willy.

The Mavs' guard, who had 16 points in the 123-121 loss, also said he forgot playground antics don't belong in this particular league.

"We are two warriors. We're out here battling on the battlefield. I forgot the NBA is a gentleman's game, so we have to fight and scrap and do it nicely," West said. "Everything is left on the court, though. You get caught up in the game. The game is emotional, it's physical and you just get caught in the moment sometimes."

Though Bell has a positive history with West, the Jazz guard wasn't fooled. He knew Hayward had gotten in West's head, resulting in West trying to return the favor in a bizarre way.

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