Gordon Hayward and the Utah Jazz lost the battle for home-court advantage during the regular season, but in Game 1 of the Western Conference Playoffs, they stole a win at the Staples Center and seized home-court from the Los Angeles Clippers.
In his first playoff appearance since 2012, No. 20 played a team-high 40 minutes and finished with a double-double of 19 points and 10 rebounds, adding three assists and a steal in the hard-fought 97-95 victory.
“We talked about it in preparation about trying to go in and steal a game on the road,” Gordon said after the first postseason win of his career. “That’s a big win for us. We know it’s just one step. We have to be ready for the next games. But it’s something we definitely discussed during preparation, coming in and trying to play well.”
As sound as Utah’s plan was, Gordon and Co. could’ve easily been derailed just 17 seconds into the game. The Jazz’s star rim protector, Rudy Gobert, went down with a knee sprain just moments after the opening tip. But Quin Snyder’s Jazz were prepared.
Gordon chipped in on the inside, contributing 10 rebounds for just the third time all season, and the first time since Dec. 21. In addition to doing his part to replace the fourth most prolific rebounder in the NBA this year in Gobert, Gordon was tasked with scoring around L.A.’s top wing defender, Luc Mbah a Moute. G-Time finished 7-of-18 from the field and was 0-for-1 from 3-point range, tipping his cap his Clipper counterpart afterward.
“He’s a smart defender,” Hayward said of Mbah a Moute. “He’s disruptive.”
Through three quarters, the Jazz held a four-point lead, but the game came down to the final two possessions. With 13 seconds left, Chris Paul made a tough floater over the arm of Derrick Favors to tie the game at 95.
Utah had one timeout remaining, but Snyder let his team play. The Jazz had a simple plan, get it in the hands of Gordon or Joe Johnson, and let them do their thing. With No. 20 blanketed on the other side of the court, Joe Jesus did his thing, hitting a game-winner as time expired, something he has done more than any other player in the NBA over the last 10 years.
“We just wanted to have it where they couldn’t set up on us,” Gordon explained. “They’re a good defensive team, especially when they can lock in and set it up. They have long, athletic players and do a lot of switching. So we wanted to just get it and go and let this man (Johnson) go to work. That’s stuff he’s been doing for a long time.”
Johnson finished with 21 points off the bench, while George Hill finished with 16 points and Boris Diaw ended with seven points.
Now the series has swung in Utah’s favor, as they have won nine games in a row at home. Game 2 is Tuesday night at the Staples Center.