With three games in three cities in four days, it was a tough stretch out of the break for the Utah Jazz—but Gordon Hayward stepped up to help his team earn a weekend split.
In front of a national TV audience, Gordon tallied 22 points as the Jazz were dominant in a 111-93 win over the Boston Celtics. Two nights later, G-Time came through with 21, but it wasn’t enough to stop the red-hot Portland Trail Blazers in a 115-111 defeat.
The Jazz were originally slated to start the second half with this Friday night meeting with Boston, but a postponement from earlier in the year set Utah off with a back-to-back right out of the break.
Utah was a bit sloppy in its return, following 103-89 on the road, but they bounced back brilliantly at home against Boston. It was a rare chance for the young Jazz to show what they’re made of in a nationally televised setting, and they made the most of it in a decisive win.
“I think the first game back from all-star break is always a little sluggish,” Gordon said. “I think the national TV audience had a little something to do with it as well. For whatever reason, I thought we played well and defended well. We made Boston play in the halfcourt, and we executed.”
Hayward had himself a monster second half in which he scored 18 of his 22 points to help boost the Jazz. He finished the game as the team’s second-leading scorer and also chipped in with three rebounds, four assists and a steal in a game-high 36 minutes of action. Gordon drained one attempt from long range and shot 6-of-16 from the floor on the night.
The game was close for the majority of the first half until the Jazz started to pull away in the third quarter. Utah led 69-62 then proceeded to go on a 10-0 run that propelled them to a 79-62 advantage and put the game out of reach for Boston. Gordon made his only three of the night from the corner early in the third, and he played a major part in that 10-0 stretch.
With 4:26 left on the clock, he took a pass from Trevor Booker drove past five Boston defenders and up for a dunk. Moments later, after a Derrick Favors block, H20 paid Booker back, finding him in transition for a slam.
Gordon and the Jazz played well in many facets, but one area that stood out was how aggressive Utah was in the second half when it came to getting to the rim. After the game, Celtics coach Brad Stevens, Hayward’s college coach at Butler University, had high-praise for his former star-player.
“Gordon’s just having another great year,” Stevens said. “He’s improved every year. He’s just doing really well. I’m happy for him.”
Favors put together a solid game and had a big impact while dominating the Celtics on both ends of the floor. Favors finished with 23 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in 33 minutes and also recorded three blocked shots. Rudy Gobert was effective as well, finishing with 11 points and a game-high 15 boards in 33 minutes.
Raul Neto followed up with a gem after a tough personal showing against the Wizards on Thursday. Neto scored a career-high 15 points on the night and didn’t miss a shot in the first half, shooting 5-of-5 from the field to go along with a couple three-pointers before halftime.
Jazz coach Quin Snyder was complimentary of his squad’s handling of a talented defensive team like the Celtics. He pointed out the multifaceted play that led to his group coming away with an important win, which allowed them to keep pace in the Western Conference.
“We attacked tonight,” Snyder said. “You can’t play tentatively against Boston. You can’t play afraid against them because they’re so aggressive defensively. Our spacing last night wasn’t good. Our bigs embraced that, our wings got to the corners and we had more space. There was more of an urgency tonight from our guys.”
BLAZERS TOO HOT
However, on Sunday night the Jazz couldn’t build off the confidence-boosting win in a playoff-like atmosphere in Portland. Utah led by as many as 13 and went on a 17-0 run in the first quarter, but it wasn’t enough to hold off the Blazers on the road.
G-Time had a productive night offensively with 21 points, five boards and three assists in 38 minutes. He was also a pest defensively too as he recorded a game-high four steals. However, he came away wishing Utah had done more on the offensive glass.
The Jazz shot 50 percent from the floor and turned it over only 11 times—but they gave up 23 offensive rebounds (and pulled down just 12 of their own), resulting in 24 second-chance points.
“It was a fun game to play in, we just came up a little short,” Gordon said. “We couldn’t make stops down the stretch, and we did get stops, they got the offensive rebound and got another crack at it.”
All the offensive boards allowed both Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum to eclipse 30 points. The Jazz played great defense at the outset. They held the Blazers to just 18 points and forced eight turnovers. The pace picked up in the second, where Gordon hit a three and had five points, but Utah still led by five, 52-47, at the half.
Lillard had just nine points at the break, but the Jazz were wary that he wouldn’t stay quiet for long.
“We talked about it at halftime. He can take and make some big shots. The first two he got were probably our fault and then after that, when he’s hot there’s nothing you can do,” Gordon said. “He hit some pretty tough ones but I think a lot of it was offensive rebounds that gave them second chances.”
Utah started the second half on a 10-2 run, fueled by a dime and a jumper from H20. The Jazz led by 13 points at the 9:24 mar, when Lillard got hot. The Portland catalyst drained four consecutive three-pointers in a minute and 37 second span to fuel a 15-1 Blazers run.
“For the most part, we played well enough to win the game. We just let Dame make his little run on us. They got right back into it. And now he’s hot—and even when he missed, we were just giving up too many offensive rebounds.”
Utah countered with seven points from Gordon and six each from Derrick Favors and Shelvin Mack to keep ahold of an 82-80 lead, setting the stage for a hectic final frame. The lead changed hands seven times and the score was tied another eight in the fourth quarter alone. The Blazers led by two midway through the quarter, when H20 stepped up and nailed a three to tip it back toward Utah.
But McCollum answered with a three of his own, as the tit-for-tat carried on. Portland looked to be in control, up four with 2:17 to go when G-Time sparked a rally. He found Rodney Hood open for three, and the budding Utah guard hit it. Hood then came back and drained another trey to put the Jazz up 107-105.
McCollum and Lillard responded with back-to-back buckets to make it a two-point Portland lead and force Gordon into action. G-Time knocked down a short turnaround J to knot it back at 109. But Lillard came right back with another scoring drive, and the Blazers held on from there on their home floor.
It was a tough test for Utah, closing a three-game, three-city, four-day stretch on the road against a fellow playoff contender. But it was a test Gordon is glad his team faced.
“The intensity just picks up,” Gordon said of the second half. “Teams can feel it, fans can feel it. We’re going to have to be in these games again. This is another one we can learn from.”
The Jazz (27-28) will try to get back in the playoff picture when they face off against the Houston Rockets (28-28) on Tuesday.
The Rockets currently are team Utah is looking up at in the Western Conference Standings, so tomorrow’s showdown will be another matchup that has important implications. The Jazz have dropped both previous games to the Rockets this season and will look to reverse the script in front of a pumped up crowd at home.
The game is slated to tipoff at 7 p.m. MST from Vivint Smart Home Arena and will be aired on ROOT.
- Jazz at Blazers: Game Book (NBA, Feb. 21, 2016)
- Hayward on Damian Lillard’s big third quarter (The Oregonian, Feb. 21, 2016)
- Utah Jazz look to toughen up, grab important head-to-head win over Houston (Salt Lake Tribune, Feb. 22, 2016)
- Hayward beats the Celtics League of Legends style (ESPN, Feb. 20, 2016)
- McCollum scores 31 as Blazers edge Jazz (AP, Feb. 22, 2016)