Utah Jazz: Jazz's Gordon Hayward heating up just in time to return home to Indiana
“It’s still not where I want it, but it’s better,” Hayward, ever a perfectionist, said in Cleveland after shooting 6 for 13 for 18 points with seven boards and seven assists. “You’ve got to take some baby steps when you’re shooting your way out of a slump, so I thought I was good tonight, especially hitting my first couple.”
Actually, Hayward hit three straight 3-pointers in the first quarter of Friday’s 99-79 loss to the Cavs. He finished with four treys for only the second time all season.
“You see the ball go in and the basket gets a little bit bigger for you,” he said. “Things open up.”
On an otherwise dreary night in Ohio, that was a positive for the Jazz.
“Gordon’s going to keep fighting his way out,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “He’s making the right plays.”
“He’s shooting it with confidence. It just don’t go in sometimes,” Jazz forward Richard Jefferson said. “He does so many other things for us.”
From an outsider's perspective, Stevens has been impressed how much growth Hayward was undergone, physically and with his skill set, from the time he led the upstart Bulldogs to the 2010 NCAA national championship game through his fourth season in the NBA.
“He’s so much stronger,” Stevens said. “He’s so much more diverse in his game, both offensively and defensively.”
Stevens recalled how Hayward defended point guards as a freshman at Butler because he wasn’t strong enough to guard guys in the paint. That changed his sophomore season as Hayward bulked up a little bit, allowing him to guard power forwards, a bonus because, Stevens explained, “he was so bright he could help us in our rotations on the back line.”
Added the Celtics coach: “Now I’m watching him guard twos and threes, and in this league those are some of the best players (and) he does so at such a high level.”
Stevens also boasted, like a proud father figure he’s been for Hayward, about what the 23-year-old can do with the ball.
“Offensively,” Stevens said, “he can do so much more than he could do with us.”
While some contend that the Jazz made a mistake by taking Hayward at No. 9 in the 2010 draft to allow the Pacers to snatch star Paul George with the next pick, Stevens makes the argument that his former player was also a steal at that spot in the mid-lottery.
“He was the ninth pick and one of the best players in college basketball, probably an underrated player, probably should’ve been an All-American player and wasn’t,” Stevens said. “Obviously, his game’s grown tremendously. They’ve done a great job here (in Utah) with him and he’s really continued to grow.”
Hayward's near triple-doubles
The Utah Jazz have allowed two opponents to tally their first triple-doubles in the past week — Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving — but Gordon Hayward has been within striking distance of that elusive mark multiple times in February even while in a slump.
Here's a look at how close Hayward has come to notching the first triple-double by a Jazz player since Carlos Boozer had 22 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists at Seattle on Feb. 13, 2008:
Feb. 28 vs. Cavs: 18 points, seven rebounds, seven assists
Feb. 26 vs. Suns: 17 points, 10 assists, nine rebounds
Feb. 21 vs. Blazers: 17 points, seven rebounds, seven assists
Feb. 12 vs. Sixers: 17 points, seven rebounds, seven assists
Feb. 11 vs. Lakers: 15 points, eight rebounds, seven assists
Feb. 8 vs. Heat: nine points, 11 assists, nine rebounds
Hayward's highlights at Bankers Life Fieldhouse
Indiana native Gordon Hayward had a sweet dunk over Paul George during their rookie year, played a decent game his second season and had a very forgettable five-turnover outing in his third visit, but he still hasn't had a breakout game in front of his fans at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Rookie: three assists, two points, 1-2 shooting
Year 2: 11 points, 4-8 shooting, three rebounds, three assists
Year 3: eight points, 2-6 shooting, five turnovers, two rebounds, one assist
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