SALT LAKE CITY — It’s no secret that Gordon Hayward had been struggling. Before Wednesday night, the Jazz guard had made less than half his shots in 13 straight games and was shooting just 28 percent from the field since the All-Star break.
His parents, Gordon and Jody, have spent the last week in town, catching four Jazz games, and they had to suffer through one of his poorer games Saturday night when he scored five points and had no rebounds or assists against Minnesota.
Just four nights later, however, Hayward turned in perhaps his best game of the season with his parents smiling 12 rows behind the Jazz bench. He came within a whisker of a triple-double, scoring 17 points with 10 rebounds and nine assists in a comfortable 109-86 Utah victory over Phoenix at EnergySolutions Arena.
Hayward looked a bit relieved after his terrific game, which included a 7-of-13 performance from the field, as the media horde converged on his cubicle. He was also glad to send his parents off on a positive note.
“Anytime they’re in town and you play well you love to see that because they don’t get to come out here as much as they like," Hayward said. “So I like to do my best when they’re here. It’s always cool when they can see me play well.’’
Hayward would have certainly gotten his first triple-double of his career — and the first by a Jazz player since 2008 — if Utah hadn’t had such an easy time with the Suns in securing its biggest margin of victory of the season.
He picked up assist No. 9 with 7:45 left when he hit Diante Garrett at the top of the key for a 3-point basket. Most everyone in the arena knew he was one short of the triple-double, including his teammates, who let him know about his numbers.
But with the Jazz up by 22, he was replaced by Trey Burke at the 6:15 mark, which drew a few muffled boos from the crowd, who were rooting for Hayward to get one more assist.
“It was close, but it didn’t work out. I’m just happy we got the win,’’ Hayward said. “Yeah, all my teammates told me to get one more assist, so I knew. But it was one of the those things where it was a blowout game and we had the win, so you don’t want to risk anything.’’
Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin was aware of the near-milestone, but he couldn’t justify letting Hayward play much more for one assist.
“I left him in a little longer, but he still played 37 minutes,’’ Corbin said. “I was trying to let him get that last one, but I didn’t want to take a chance. He’s good about it. He had a good game for us. We love the guy to death and we want to keep lifting him up and make sure he knows how important it is for him to play well.’’
Hayward wasn’t the only Utah player to have a good game on a night when most things were clicking for the Jazz.
Seven Utah players finished in double figures as Richard Jefferson matched Hayward with 17; Derrick Favors, Alec Burks and Garrett each scored 15; and Jeremy Evans and Trey Burke added 11 and 10, respectively. The Jazz shot 56.8 percent from the field and had 22 assists.
“We were sharing the ball and trying to play the basketball game the right way,’’ said Corbin. “We shared the ball really well.’’
It helped the Jazz that the Suns were missing their leading scorer, Goran Dragic, who was out with a sprained ankle, which he suffered in a loss to Minnesota the night before. Dragic is having an All-Star season — even if he wasn’t chosen to compete in New Orleans earlier this month — averaging 20.2 points and 6.2 assists.
He was replaced by Ish Smith, an unheralded third-year pro out of Wake Forest, averaging 4.0 ppg and 2.5 apg, who was making his first start of the season. He ended up playing well with 13 points, eight rebounds and five assists, but the Suns clearly missed Dragic. Gerald Green led the Suns’ scoring with 17 points.
“Obviously Goran didn’t play and we were short-handed,’’ said Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek. “That’s when you almost have to try to win the game defensively and we didn’t do that. We played last night and being short-handed, it looked like we ran out of gas.’’
The Jazz led from the start, taking a 26-23 first-quarter lead. After falling behind briefly in the second quarter, they stretched their lead to 53-44 at halftime. After three quarters it was 78-64 and the Jazz didn’t let up in the final quarter when they outscored the Suns 31-22.
The Jazz head out on a nine-day, six-game road trip beginning with a contest in Cleveland Friday night. They won’t be home until March 10 against Atlanta.
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