SALT LAKE CITY — At Wednesday’s practice, Enes Kanter jokingly mentioned that Gordon Hayward should’ve tried to get three more assists Tuesday night. Smiling, Brandon Rush said he wanted to see the shooting guard take a 3-pointer in the final minute of the Jazz's 112-101 win over Oklahoma City.
And Hayward lamented that he missed some free throws down the stretch.
“That was easy money,” he said. “I could have had those.”
Now, let’s not get greedy.
At least Hayward and his Utah Jazz teammates were able to laugh about how his career-best night — 37 points on 13-of-16 shooting, 11 rebounds and seven assists — supposedly could’ve been better.
“If I would have been less selfish,” Hayward said, “I could have gotten a triple-double.”
Hayward wasn’t the only one who noticed how close he came to notching just the 25th triple-double in the Jazz’s 40-year history.
“He put his heart and played really hard. He has enough talent to do it every night,” Kanter said. With a grin, he added, “He needed three more assists to get a triple-double.”
The Jazz will forgive him, considering Hayward became the first player since LeBron James to close out a game with 17 points in a row for his team.
"He was balling," backup point guard Diante Garrett said.
Hayward’s monster performance was just the latest in a string of strong games. He scored 22 points on 8-of-16 shooting in each of the previous two contests against the Lakers and Bucks.
That from a guy who had admittedly been in an extended slump, having shot just 39.7 percent from the field in the 2013 portion of this season.
“It is finally good to be there (in the zone). It has been a rough season shooting for me,” Hayward said. “Good to get back into the gym at home. I was able to go over at nighttime and get more shots up, and I think that really helped me.”
Hayward, the Jazz's leading scorer with 17.1 points per game, said he recently tweaked his shooting delivery. Specifically, he's been stepping forward into his shot instead of leaning back. He also kept his shoulders “pretty much straight up and down,” as he’s been instructed.
“So,” he said, “that was a big key.”
Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin laughed when asked if he noticed anything different about Hayward’s shot.
“When the ball goes in the hole,” he said, “it looks like everything’s going well.”
Corbin’s happy to see Hayward’s hard work pay off.
“It was great. I know how much he’s been working. He comes in early, stays late, works on the shot and to see it start going in the hole for him it’s tremendous,” Corbin said. “To see it going in with the frequency it went in last night, it’s really good for his confidence. It’s good for us.”
The Jazz needed Hayward’s offensive outburst to counter star Kevin Durant’s 48-point night. Garrett thoroughly enjoyed watching that duel from his front-row seat in the fourth quarter. Combined, Durant and Hayward scored 28 points in the final period.
“It was crazy. It was funny,” Garrett said, “because I’m just like, ‘(He’s) playing against the No. 1 scorer in the league (and) he’s giving it to him. He’s giving it to whoever was (guarding) him.’”
Hayward, whose previous career-high was 34, didn’t even realize he’d scored so many points in a row.
“I don’t think I’ve ever done that,” he said. “It’s probably the best performance I’ve had.”
The next morning at practice, Rush was razzing Hayward for missing a golden opportunity to hit 40 for the first time. Instead of attempting a 3-pointer late in the game, Hayward passed the ball away.
“He pretty much carried us that whole fourth quarter,” Rush said. “It’s good to see him being aggressive and taking control of the game like he did last night.”
Hayward was 2 for 3 from deep, both of which came after Durant helped trim the Jazz’s 24-point lead down to five. Durant only made 14 of 34 shots, including 3 of 13 from beyond the arc.
Now Hayward is hoping to keep this rhythm going as he’s returned to his early-season form, like when he had five 20-point games in a six-game stretch in November before cooling off.
“Hopefully,” Hayward said when asked if he’s turned the corner shooting-wise. “It’s still day by day. I still have a lot of places to improve on. There’ll be another night when I struggle. I know that I can’t get too high on the highs or too low on the lows.”
Or please everybody with a near triple-double or 37 points.
“He was a little tired, I could tell,” a smiling Rush said when Hayward’s missed free throws (he hit 9 of 13) were mentioned. “But he should have shot the 3.”
EMAIL: email@example.com TWITTER: DJJazzyJody
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company