SALT LAKE CITY — Just when it looked like Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder might make good on their rally from a 24-point second-half deficit and overtake Utah down the stretch, here came Gordon Hayward to the rescue for the Jazz.
And he refused to let 'em lose.
The Jazz shooting guard poured in 17 fourth-quarter points — heck, he scored Utah's last 17 points of the game — and finished with a career-high 37 to lift the Jazz to a 112-101 victory at EnergySolutions Arena.
Hayward's performance in the final period was, well, downright Durant-esque. While the Thunder scoring machine had a 48-point night, with 17 of 19 free throws to offset a rough 3-of-13 outing from 3-point range, Hayward put his team on his shoulders and was the best player on the court when it counted most.
"He carried us down the stretch just by making plays," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said of his fourth-year pro. " ... It was a tremendous game for him.
"(Durant) was trying to do everything he could to will his team to a win, and I thought Gordon responded for us and did everything he could to help us get this win."
It wasn't just his scoring, either. Hayward also hauled down 11 rebounds and handed out seven assists — both highs for the game — swiped a couple of steals and even blocked a shot, too.
And each time OKC threatened, it seemed, Hayward drove to the basket, or buried a mid-range jump shot, or splashed in a huge 3-pointer.
He admitted that going up against a heralded superstar player like Durant definitely game him some extra motivation.
"You always bring it against the best," Hayward said. "He is an unbelievable player and he tried to carry them. They were injured, had a couple players (Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka) that were out and still made it a game.
"We competed out there, I think, played with passion," he said, "and I was able to knock down some shots."
Yep — a lot of them, a blistering 13 of 16 from the field and 9 of 13 from the foul line. And whatever the Jazz needed over the final seven minutes, Hayward did it.
When the Thunder had trimmed Utah's seemingly safe lead down to five, 99-94, with 4:51 to play, Hayward hit a 3 from the right angle to extend the margin back to eight.
After a pair of free throws by Durant cut the gap to six, 102-96, Hayward tossed in another 3 to make it a nine-point lead. He missed a couple of free throws, but atoned for those with a jumper that extended Utah's lead to 11 at 107-96.
Finally, Hayward's twisting, falling-sideways shot in the lane put it out of reach, and his steal-and-dunk sealed the deal in the closing seconds.
"Once you hit a couple of tough ones, the basket gets pretty big for you and you can almost throw up anything and it'll go in," Hayward said sheepishly.
On this night, that hoop must've looked like the size of a swimming pool to him. And he filled it up with a torrent of points.
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