Yeah, I was in the zone a little bit tonight. —Gordon Hayward
SALT LAKE CITY — On Tuesday, Kevin Durant was in that crazy-good mode he gets into, oh, about every time he steps onto the court. He had the eye of the tiger Katy Perry and Survivor like to sing about. For the second time in four nights, the superstar scored an NBA season-high 48 points.
Thanks to Gordon Hayward, it wasn’t nearly enough.
On this night, Hayward’s career game trumped Durant’s latest huge outing as the hot-shooting guard scored 37 points to lead the Jazz to a 112-101 victory over Oklahoma City at EnergySolutions Arena.
“Yeah,” Hayward said, “I was in the zone a little bit tonight.”
Not only did he have the line of the night — 13-of-16 shooting, 11 rebounds and seven assists — but Hayward also had the understatement of the night with that humble quote.
It’d be like the Jazz (12-25) claiming their double-digit win over Western Conference-leading OKC (27-8) was a little bit surprising.
Hayward and the Jazz were in the zone a lot bit, if you will.
En route to its signature win to date in the 2013-14 season, Utah shot a season-best 58.8 percent, held the Thunder to 39.3 percent shooting, had every starter hit double figures and played clutch when it counted most.
“It’s obviously definitely one of the best ones (wins),” Jazz point guard Trey Burke said. “That’s a really good team over there in OKC, a playoff team. That goes to show when we compete we can play with the best of them.”
Play with and beat the best of them in this case.
It didn’t hurt the Jazz’s cause that the Thunder were playing without two starters — injured Russell Westbrook (knee) and ailing center Serge Ibaka (flu-like symptoms).
But still. OKC had beaten the Jazz twice this season without star playmaker Westbrook, and the Thunder had won eight straight road games and four in a row against Utah. Even down a couple of guys, this is a loaded championship contender.
And the Thunder are especially dangerous when Durant goes off like he did while matching his point total from OKC's game against Minnesota on Saturday night.
Durant seemed like he was going to almost single-handedly haul the Thunder to a big comeback victory in front of a rabid crowd of 18,547. His free throws with 4:50 remaining trimmed a one-time 24-point Jazz lead down to just five.
“He is an unbelievable player,” Hayward said, “and he tried to carry them.”
Hayward knows a little bit about carrying teams.
The Jazz shooting guard, who might want to save newspaper clips and highlights from this game for contract negotiations next offseason, scored the final 17 points of the game for Utah.
Guard Alec Burks’ free throw with 7:49 remaining was the final non-Hayward point for the Jazz.
Hayward’s biggest buckets in that stretch were consecutive 3-pointers he hit in the moments after Durant freebies pulled the Thunder within five (99-94) and six points (102-96).
The punctuation points came with 1:01 remaining when Hayward stole a Nick Collison pass and hauled it to the basket for a breakaway slam to give the Jazz a 13-point lead.
Game. Set. Haywardmania.
“How about Gordon? He was huge,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “I mean, we needed every last basket he made for us.”
The continually improving Jazz, who’ve won three of four and four of their last six games, also got strong contributions from a large supporting cast.
Center Derrick Favors scored 15 points with five rebounds and three blocks — not to forget a monstrous dunk in which he went up over Durant for a poster moment the Thunder player would rather forget.
Forward Marvin Williams scored 12 points before fouling out, and Richard Jefferson, Burke (six rebounds, six assists) and Enes Kanter each contributed 10 points in the Jazz’s second-highest scoring game of the season.
Utah, looking energized from three days off, came out strong and took a 30-29 lead after the first quarter. The Jazz then dominated the second quarter for a 59-47 halftime advantage before eventually going up by 24 midway through the third.
“That gave us a cushion so we could handle the storm at the end there,” Corbin said.
The final quarter featured a furious Thunder rally and some of the best basketball of Hayward’s life (not counting a few missed free throws that ultimately didn’t matter).
Corbin credited the Jazz’s “effort” and “focus” down the stretch for holding off Durant and Co.
“They cut it down to (five) and we were able to get some big shots and weather the storm,” Corbin said. “That’s a tremendous learning lesson for a young group of guys.”
“We’re learning how to play together each and every game,” Burke said. “The chemistry’s getting better. We’re going to keep this up.”