Matt Gade, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — To say Gordon Hayward has been in a shooting slump recently would be an understatement.
For the season, the third-year player ranked ahead of only four other qualified players out of 124 in the NBA in field goal percentage, and in the past three weeks he has shot an abominable 29 percent from the field.
So when Hayward’s shots started falling early Monday night, it was a welcome relief, not only to Hayward, but to the Jazz, who won their fourth game of the year against a Houston team that came into town on a five-game winning streak.
Hayward sank seven of his first eight shots to help the Jazz out of the gates quickly and finished the night with a season-high 29 points on 12-of-18 shooting.
“It was good to see the ball go in the hoop,’’ said Hayward. “It’s been bugging me recently and I just tried to go out there and attack and play with confidence. I got going early and that gives you a rhythm to just play freely.’’
With Hayward leading the way, other players such as Trey Burke and Alec Burks followed their leader as each chipped in with 21 points in solid efforts as the Jazz won their second straight game.
Coach Tyrone Corbin was thrilled to see Hayward break out of his shooting slump with his first game above 50 percent since the New Orleans game on Nov. 13, which not coincidentally, was also a Jazz win.
“He did a great job tonight — he was patient, made the right shots and missed a couple that looked like they were right in the hole,’’ Corbin said. “He just played. Gordon is a smart basketball player and knows how to read situations. It’s always better when you can get a couple of easy ones and then your jump shot feels a little better.’’
Hayward made six of the first eight Jazz points, with a pair of free throws, a slam dunk off a feed from Richard Jefferson and reverse layup off a nice pass from Burke. After missing his only shot of the quarter on a 19-footer, Hayward came back with a flurry at the end of the quarter, including a 17-footer, a 10-foot fadeway on the baseline and a sweet juke past James Harden on a break that resulted in a 3-point play.
“It was huge, I got going early and got some easy buckets in transition,’’ Hayward said. “I’ve been in a slump recently, so any time you see the ball go through the hoop it really feels good. It kind of set the tone for the rest of the game.’’
Hayward looks to not be forcing shots and trusting his teammates as he did late in the game when he passed up an open 3-pointer to hit an even more open Marvin Williams, who sank the clinching three that gave the Jazz an eight-point lead with a minute remaining.
“Trey drew like three people, kicked to me and I kicked to Marvin and he hit the three and put us up eight,’’ said Hayward of the big play. “That’s just sharing the basketball, guys having fun. That’s winning basketball.’’
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