Gordon Hayward helped the Utah Jazz earn two critical wins this weekend over the Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns as the playoff race tightens in the Western Conference.

In both contests, G-Time led the way in scoring and was instrumental to his squad’s recent success as they try and lock down a playoff position. With the two wins, the Jazz are now tied with the Dallas Mavericks for the seventh spot in the conference, and they hold a one-game lead over the Houston Rockets in ninth.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Utah Jazz

On Friday’s impressive win against the T-Wolves, Hayward finished with 22 points, five boards, three assists and two steals. In Sunday’s101-86 win against the Suns, Gordon added another 22 points, five rebounds, five assists, a steal and a block.

After the 98-85 win over Minnesota, H20 lauded the defensive effort from the Jazz and was happy with how his team came up big and made key stops down the stretch.

“We played defense,” Hayward explained. “We got stops when we needed to. We were able to score off our defense and we executed timely plays. We got some easy dunks and layups, and then we looked up and we were up 12, 14, 15 points, whatever it was.”

G-Time got going in the first on a fadeaway jumper to give Utah an early 8-4 advantage. The Timberwolves responded with back-to-back field goals to pull ahead, but on the ensuing possession, Hayward’s driving slam put the Jazz back up by one.

Gordon finished the quarter strong to help the Jazz maintain their lead. At the 1:39 mark, he knocked down a fadeaway bank-shot, and on the following Jazz possession, his running slam gave Utah a 25-22 edge.

The game stayed close in the second but Hayward was quiet from the field. He made a nice play with 2:28 left in the half when he swiped away a pass from Ricky Rubio for his second steal of the game. H20 also hit 5-of-6 free throws in the final 2:11 of the quarter to bring the Jazz within one.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Utah Jazz

With a second left in the frame, Hayward connected with Rodney Hood who drained his attempt from downtown to put Utah up 51-49 at halftime. Utah then opened the third on a quick 8-2 run to extend its lead.

Hayward’s pullup jumper put the Jazz ahead 57-49 and a couple minutes later, H20 drained his first trey of the night to make it a 62-56 game with 7:30 remaining in the quarter. After three, the Jazz led by nine and they didn’t look back in the fourth.

Midway through the quarter, Gordon’s floater gave the Jazz an 88-77 lead and he followed up with a driving slam on the next possession to make it a 90-77 game. Hayward and Co. finished strong and didn’t let the T-Wolves get close the rest of the contest.  They did it with defense, allowing just 19 and 17 points in the final two quarters of play.

“Our game plan was good and we executed it. I think number one, we’re a good defensive team especially when everyone’s focused,” Hayward said. “They got a lot of talent, a lot of guys that can score and we tried to make it difficult for them…for the most part tonight I thought we did that.”

In Sunday’s win over the Suns, the theme was more of the same as strong defensive play helped Gordon and his team secure a second straight win for their fourth victory in their last five games.

After leading his team in scoring for the second night in a row with four other Jazz players finishing in double-figures, the focus after the game from G-Time was still geared towards how well Utah played defensively in the winning effort.

“We scored off our defense and we got going from there,” H20 said. “We closed it out, we won the game and it was a big game for us.”

Utah fell behind early, but suffocating defense in the second quarter made all the difference.

Gordon scored the first points of the game for the Jazz on a trip to line where he knocked down both his freebies with ease to tie the game at two. Later in the frame, Hayward’s trifecta at the 4:33 mark brought the Jazz within two after the Suns jumped ahead. But then Phoenix went on its run.

Utah Jazz v Phoenix Suns

With just under two minutes left in the quarter and Utah trailing, No. 20 finished off an alley-oop on a nice feed from Joe Ingles to make it a 19-11 game. After one, Hayward and Co. found themselves in a 23-16 hole but they came out strong in the second to get back into it.

The Jazz defense was outstanding in the second. They held the Suns to 3-of-19 shooting (15.8 percent) and scored nine points on six turnovers. Meanwhile, the Salt Lake City crew shot 63.2 percent to take a 30-10 advantage in the second.

Utah trailed by four with 7:59 left in the half but then went on an absolute tear to reclaim the lead. Hayward helped the Jazz go on an 18-0 run in a seven-minute span to jump out to a 44-30 advantage. That included a span from 10:38 to 0:59 where the Suns didn’t record a single field goal.

H20 got to the line and hit both of his attempts to put the Jazz up by one, and a few possessions later, Hayward made a nifty move on a turnaround fadeaway to make it a 41-30 game. G-Time then made a nice pass to Hood for a three on Utah’s next possession to give the Jazz a 14-point lead.

Devin Booker finally broke through for Phoenix’s first field goal in nearly 10 minutes, but No. 20 answered back. Hayward made another heads-up pass to Trey Lyles, who finished with an alley-oop to give the Jazz a 46-32 lead.

“It’s been our calling card all year,” Hayward said. “When we play well defensively, we give ourselves a chance.”

Utah Jazz v Phoenix Suns

The Suns chipped their way back to within four, but No. 20 helped shut the door from there. Hayward was quiet from the field for the majority of the frame, but his pullup jumper at the 28.9 mark made it a 72-62 game.

The fourth quarter started out strong for Gordon who opened the scoring on a jump shot to put his squad up by 12. A couple minutes later Hayward found net on another pullup jumper to give the Jazz an 81-68 edge.

With 8:02 left in the game the Jazz started pull away even more after G-Time’s jump shot put Utah ahead by 15. Later in the quarter Gordon converted on a running slam to make it a 96-79 game with 2:45. Shortly thereafter, Hood buried the dagger three, and Rudy Gobert threw down an alley-oop for the final nail in the coffin one possession later, allowing Snyder to send Gordon and the rest of the starters to the bench.

NEXT UP

Hayward and the Jazz (39-38) will have a difficult task ahead of them when they face off against the San Antonio Spurs (64-12) on Tuesday night.

With the playoff race tightening, G-time and teammates will need every win they can get down the stretch if they want to hold on to their playoff spot. The Jazz have dropped each of the three games to the Spurs this year, but a motivated Utah squad will look to salvage the season series at home.

The game will tip off at 7 p.m. MST from Vivint Smart Home Arena and will be aired on ROOT.

WESTERN CONFERENCE STANDINGS – 3/4

1. y – Golden State Warriors (69-8)

2. y – San Antonio Spurs (64-12) 4.5 GB

3. y – Oklahoma City Thunder (53-24) 16 GB

4. x – Los Angeles Clippers (48-28) 20.5 GB

5. Memphis Grizzlies (41-36) 28 GB

6. Portland Trail Blazers (41-37) 28.5 GB

7. Dallas Mavericks (39-38) 30 GB

8. Utah Jazz (39-38) 30 GB

9. Houston Rockets (38-39) 31 GB

y – Clinched division

x – Clinched playoff berth