With just a month remaining in the 2015-16 NBA regular season, it’s now-or-never for the Utah Jazz and over the weekend, Gordon Hayward and his teammates took a big step toward the now.
Utah stumbled into the weekend having lost seven of their previous eight games. But they appeared to right the ship a bit with a weekend sweep of two fellow fringe playoff contenders, winning at home over the Washington Wizards on Friday and on the road against the Sacramento Kings Sunday night.
Gordon played a key role in both wins. He finished with 18 points, two boards, three helpers and a steal in Utah’s impressive 114-93 win over the Wiz, then followed that up with 27 points, four rebounds, three assists and a steal to lead the Jazz to a 108-99 victory in Sacramento.
It was clear all weekend that Utah’s mindset was that they had little room left for error, with the season winding down and their playoff hopes in jeopardy, and that they had to come out and play with intensity from the start.
“We’re at the point of the season where we have to kind of stop talking, we just have to go out there and do it,” Gordon said. “We realize these are games we have to win. They’re almost like now-or-never games. Each one is really important for us. We definitely feel the intensity. All the guys feel it. There’s a heightened sense of focus by us.”
MACK ATTACK KEYS WIN OVER WALL’S WIZARDS
The Jazz showcased that focus on Friday night at home, where they welcomed All-Star point guard John Wall and the Washington Wizards for a cross conference battle.
But on this night, it was another point guard who shined.
In his 11th game with the Jazz, Shelvin Mack tallied a career-high 27 points on 11-of-17 from the field to lead Utah to an overwhelming 114-93 victory over Washington. Gordon tacked on 18 points on just 4-of-7 from the field, thanks to 9-of-10 at the charity stripe, and added three rebounds, two assists and a steal.
After the game, G-Time praised the play of Mack, his Butler University teammate, in the point guard’s biggest game since the two were reunited, when the Jazz acquired Mack on Feb. 18. Gordon said it was especially impressive how Mack took what the defense gave him in each situation and executed to make sure Utah put points on the board.
“It brought back some memories of when we were at Butler. I thought he played well tonight,” Gordon said. “A lot of times the wings weren’t helping from the corners and let him get his little floater off. [When] they went under screens, he buried the threes. So he was rolling tonight. It was fun to see….being the point guard, I think he’s done a tremendous job for us. It’s probably a difficult task to switch, 50 games into the season, to a different team, different system. I’ve never done it, so I can’t say. But I can just imagine it.”
The Jazz outscored the Wizards in every quarter en route to the blowout win, but a fast-paced start to the game saw Washington take an early 7-0 lead. G-Time halted that early run with a 3-pointer on his first attempt of the game that got things going for the Jazz. That trey sparked an 8-0 run to the lead for Utah and Gordon bookended it when he got to the bucket for a running layup just three minutes into the game to put the Jazz ahead for the first time.
No. 20 also pitched in his first helped of the evening late in the first, with a nice feed to Raul Neto, who knocked down a trey to give Utah a 29-24 edge with 2:13 left in the quarter. Neto (6) and G-Time (5) were two of five different Jazz players with at least five points in the first. Mack chipped in five of his own and Favors led the way with seven as Utah took a 32-29 lead to the second.
After they combined to score more than 60 points in the first, both teams turned up the defensive intensity in the second. Utah saw their lead rise to seven early in the frame, but Washington quickly cut it to one. It stood there when Gordon re-entered the game and he and Mack authored a run late in the half to give the Jazz a more substantial lead at the break.
Mack tallied 10 points in the frame and Gordon added four on two successful trips to the free throw line. Two of those freebies started a 9-4 Utah run to close out the quarter. Then, with 31 seconds remaining before the half, No. 20 got to the line again and nailed both attempts to give the Jazz a 10-point lead. They took an eight-point edge into halftime.
A key to the game for Utah was limiting the effectiveness of Wall. The star Washington point man with blazing speed went scoreless and had just one assist in the second quarter after a seven-point, four-assist first frame. Gordon explained after the game that the Jazz emphasized Wall in their pre-game preparation and put forth a concerted effort to make someone else beat them. To do that, they knew they had to be sound in their defensive assignments, especially in transition where Wall is so lethal. The Jazz executed that plan to perfection, allowing only six fast-break points with the first of those not coming until the 9:13 mark in the fourth quarter.
“We really focused on getting back,” G-Time said. “We talked about it this morning. We talked about it before the game, [about] showing a wall and not letting John Wall get going. He did [get going] there late on us a little bit…but I think that was too little, too late. Overall, it was a good job of us making him and their guys see bodies and not space.”
The Jazz continued to execute that game plan in the second half, as the pulled away from Washington thanks to some incredibly efficient scoring and sound defense. The Jazz tallied 32 points in the quarter, shooting the ball at an absurd 83.3 percent clip (10-of-12). G-Time got his only bucket of the frame on a pretty reverse layup seconds after recording his lone steal of the night. That bucket put Utah back up 10 and they pushed the pedal down, doubling that lead before the end of the quarter.
“It was huge, especially for a team to come on the road,” Gordon noted. “They get going early, feel like they can play and now you have a ballgame. I thought we did a good job, especially there in the third of extending the lead, closing out at home.”
From there, the Jazz essentially cruised. Washington mounted a brief run to cut the lead to 11, led by Wall who tallied 14 in the final frame. But buckets by Trey Lyles and Mack, sandwiched around a trip to the line by Rodney Hood, pushed the edge back to 16.
Moments later, Gordon knocked down his final jumper of the night, a mid-range shot that made it 106-90 in favor of Utah with under three minutes to go. Shortly thereafter he got to the line again and hit both his attempts from the charity stripe to make it a 19-point game with 2:17 left in regulation. He checked out to an ovation from the home crowd about a minute later as the Jazz put the finishing touches on a big victory.
No. 20 was one of five Jazz players to score in double figures and afterward he spoke of the importance of Utah playing a team game on both ends of the floor to have success.
“We needed this one. It was a big game for us,” he said. “You can’t put any of our wins or losses on one person. Especially the way we play. It’s not like we’re running isolations and guys are just standing around watching people. Everybody’s moving. It’s on everybody to get good shots. We just took what the defense gave us. It was good tonight.”
JAZZ PICK IT UP ON THE ROAD
Coming off a well executed win on Friday, the Jazz didn’t miss a beat two nights later in Sacramento and thanks to monster nights from Gordon and Derrick Favors they picked up a vital road win.
G-Time’s 27 points on the evening were outdone only by the 28 scored by his running mate Favors, who also logged a game-high 14 rebounds for his 17th double-double of the season in the 108-99 victory for the Jazz. Utah’s 1-2 punch combined for 55 points and afterward No. 20 gave credit to Fav who had to battle on both ends of the court with one of league’s best.
“He was just strong all night for us. He was a rock down there,” Gordon said of Favors. “It’s a tough task guarding DeMarcus [Cousins], especially with Rudy [Gobert] in foul trouble. [He was] solid making free throws and rebounds and giving us extra possessions, a steal too. He’s one of our leaders. We expect that from him.”
Though the big night from Favors helped to close the deal, it was G-Time in the early going, as Gordon helped get the Jazz off to a roaring start in the opening frame. No. 20 tallied 11 of his 27 points in the first, including a trio of triples that galvanized Utah to quickly establish a double-digit advantage.
His first points of the night came from the free throw line, where he sank a pair just three-and-a-half minutes into the contest to give the Jazz a six-point lead. Later, he set up shop behind the arc. His first triple went down with exactly five minutes gone by in the frame to make it 14-7 and he added another on Utah’s very next possession to make it a 10-point game.
After the back-to-back triples, G-Time was quiet for a few minutes as he teammates went to work. He did dish an assist to Favors for the big man’s fourth bucket of night, which extended the Jazz lead to 14. It was sitting there again several minutes later when No. 20 got back in on the scoring action, burying his third three of the frame with 1:06 left in the first to put Utah in front by 17. They ended the quarter doubling up the Kings with a 36-18 advantage. After the game, Sacramento coach George Karl was highly complimentary of the way both Gordon and Favors played.
“Gordon is an up-and-coming stud. Favors is just a solid and smart player that knows how to run the pick-and-roll game,” Karl said. “They’re good players. I mean, they’re both very good players.”
The Jazz maintained their big first quarter lead in the second, thanks in part to G-Time, who maintained his red-hot shooting and moved up in Utah’s record book in the process.
When Gordon buried his fourth three of the game with 4:17 to go until halftime to give the Jazz a 53-34 lead, he also passed Memo Okur for fourth on the all-time list of three pointers made in franchise history with his 518th trey. No. 20 now trails only Darrell Griffith (530), Bryon Russell (540) and John Stockton (845) on that list.
A few moments after that triple, G-Time finished off a transition pass from Rudy Gobert with a running-slam to put Utah back up by 20 with 1:55 left in the half. The Jazz got the lead up to 20 twice more in the late stages of the frame, once when Gordon dished to Favors for a mid-range jumper and then again when No. 20 knocked down a tough pull-up bank shot with exactly a minute to go. Still Sacramento had an answer for each late basket from Utah and at halftime they’d cut the deficit down to 16.
Utah did their best to make sure that lead didn’t slip away early in the third, scoring the first six points of the second half to extend the advantage to 22. G-Time was right in the middle of that surge with a driving layup that again made it a 20-point game. The Jazz pushed their lead as high as 25 in the third, but for the majority of the frame the two squads traded buckets back and forth. Gordon banked in another jumper late in the quarter to give Utah a 78-56 edge, but a late Kings run to close out the quarter made it a 15-point game entering the fourth.
Sacramento started to make things interesting down the stretch, but G-Time and the Jazz refused to let this one get away from them. The Jazz hit their free throws throughout the frame, going 10-of-12 from the stripe in the fourth, including a pair from No. 20.
However, after those two points, Sacramento mounted a 9-0 run to cut the Utah lead back to single digits with 5:41 to play. The Jazz managed to keep them at arm’s length for several minutes with Favors sinking shot after shot from the free throw line. The Kings got as close as five with 23.1 seconds left, but after two more Favors free throws, Gordon made a huge defensive play, getting in the passing lane to pick off a pass from Omri Casspi and he converted that steal into a dunk on the other end to seal the game.
Afterward, Gordon lamented the fact that the game got that close, but was happy with the outcome regardless as the Jazz quickly head back home for two more important games this week.
“We have to be better for sure,” G-Time said. “But at the end of the day, a win is a win. We’ll take all the wins we can get right now.”
The Jazz (31-35) have a quick turnaround after Sunday’s win in Sac-town as they return home to finish a back-to-back against the East-leading Cleveland Cavaliers (47-18) Monday night in Salt Lake City.
The Cavs enter the contest on the tail end of their own back-to-back after defeating the Clippers 114-90 in a Sunday matinee contest in Los Angeles. Both teams will be on short rest entering Monday’s showdown, but Cleveland is currently rolling, winners of six of their last seven.
Utah was able to hang tough with the No.1 seed in the Eastern Conference when the two teams last met in Cleveland back in November, but the Jazz ended up falling by a final score of 118-114. Gordon had 17 points in that game, but the task will be significantly tougher for the Jazz on Monday. It was announced after shootaround that G-Time will miss the game as he tries to recover from a plantar fascia injury in his foot that has been nagging him. It will mark the first game No. 20 has missed this season.
Monday’s game from Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City is scheduled to tip off at 8:30 p.m. MT and will be nationally televised on ESPN and locally on ROOT Sports.
- Utah Jazz beat Washington Wizards, 114-93 (Salt Lake Tribune, March 11, 2016)
- Jazz slow All-Star Wall, Wizards’ fast break (Salt Lake Tribune, March 11, 2016)
- Holy Mackerel! Shelvin Mack goes off for career night in Jazz win (Deseret News, March 11, 2016)
- Mack’s huge night helps Jazz grab a huge win (Deseret News, March 11, 2016)
- Utah Jazz hold off Sacramento Kings, 108-99 (Salt Lake Tribune, March 13, 2016)
- Favors, Hayward come up big in ‘big-time win’ for Jazz (Deseret News, March 13, 2016)
- Gordon Hayward to miss tonight’s game vs. Cleveland due to foot injury (Deseret News, March 14, 2016)