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Tom Smart, Deseret News
Utah Jazz shooting guard Gordon Hayward (20) grabs a loose ball as Miami Heat power forward Udonis Haslem (40) tries to grab it as the Utah Jazz and the Miami Heat play NBA basketball Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, in Salt Lake City.

LeBron James is considered by many the best player in the NBA. Down the stretch Monday, though, Gordon Hayward was the best player on the court. Behind the third-year swingman’s clutch play, the Utah Jazz clung on to a tenuous lead to defeat the NBA champion Miami Heat, 104-97.

A determined Utah team came out and imposed its will on the Heat. It grabbed an early edge and slowly but surely built it up to a 15-point halftime lead. At one point, the Jazz were up by 21 points. Miami made a furious, defense-driven comeback, cutting the Jazz's advantage down to two points late in the game. Ultimately, however, the Jazz made the plays they needed on both ends to hold on to the win.

Al Jefferson once against led the Utah attack, scoring 23 points. James did his thing, scoring 32 points of his own.

Hayward’s Heroics: It is evident that Hayward is and will continue to be one of Utah’s cornerstones. As the Jazz near the halfway point of this long NBA season, Hayward’s continual improvement has proved integral for the now 21-19 team.

Hayward had a smooth stretch in the first half where he quickly put 10 points up on the board. But it was his second-half dramatics that stood out. During a particularly potent Miami run, Hayward smoothly canned a 3-pointer that temporarily stemmed the tide. But no shot was bigger than his step-back jumper with 40 seconds remaining, the shot that proved to be the dagger in Miami's side. And while he nailed some big, tough jumpers, Hayward was defensively able to stick with Miami guard Ray Allen down the stretch.

Odds n’ Ends:

-- Utah’s bench was a major factor for the Jazz, especially in an animated and spirited first half. The Jazz's bench players struggled in the fourth quarter, as they were pitted against many of Miami's starters. When it was said and done, though, they bested their counterparts by scoring 45 to the Heat’s 26.

-- Eight of the 11 Utah players who saw court time registered two or more assists.

-- Miami actually had more assists (25) than rebounds (23).

-- In an odd exchange, a front-row fan and Miami star Dwyane Wade seemingly exchanged some words, with the former eventually being escorted out of the game.

-- The Heat had six players reach double-digit scoring, albeit in a losing cause.

David Smith provides instant analysis for Deseret News' Utah Jazz coverage. He works for LDS Philanthropies and also blogs for the Utah Jazz 360 website. He can be reached at mechakucha1@gmail.com or on Twitter at davidjsmith1232.