Gordon Hayward saved some of his best basketball for the playoffs, but it wasn’t quite enough for the Utah Jazz to dethrone the two-time defending Western Conference champion Golden State Warriors.
The Jazz returned to Vivint Smart Home Arena facing a 2-0 deficit. Looking to extend the series, G-Time came through with 29-point and 25-point efforts in Game 3 and Game 4, respectively, but Utah couldn’t steal a game from the West’s No. 1 seed, falling 102-91 and 121-95 to close out their 2016-17 campaign.
“For me personally, I’m still going to go home not happy,” Gordon said after the Game 4 defeat. “My goal was to win the whole thing. That wasn’t accomplished. I think I took a lot of steps forward this year, but I think there are still a lot of steps to go. Definitely proud of what we accomplished and what I was able to accomplish this year. But for me, I still look at it as more motivation. I’m going into the offseason hungry for more.”
JAZZ DROP GAME 3 HEARTBREAKER
Golden State skirted out to a 10-point lead after the first quarter, but the Jazz fought back in the second. Gordon scored just one point during the Utah rally on a free throw following a Draymond Green technical foul. But he sent assists out to Boris Diaw, Rudy Gobert and Rodney Hood—and Hood’s 3-pointer gave the Jazz a 48-47 lead with a minute remaining in the first half.
G-Time went to work in the third with a short jumper and back-to-back threes. The two treys gave Utah a six-point lead, but the Warriors made a run late in the frame to take a 72-70 advantage into the fourth.
However, that theme of late Golden State runs persisted. The game remained neck-and-neck halfway through the fourth quarter, but the Warriors caught fire late and followed a 38-point night from Kevin Durant to the win.
“They’re a historically great team,” Gordon said of the Warriors. “They’re No. 1 offensive, No. 1 or 2 defensive team in the league, and they make you pay for mistakes. You have to be almost perfect every possession, or else they turn it into a 10-0 run. So you can’t have mental lapses against a team like this. It’ll be a great learning experience for us. To realize this is what it takes. It can be one mental lapse that turns the game, turns the momentum.”
Gordon added six assists and two rebounds to his team-high 29 points. Eight of Gordon’s 29 came in the fourth quarter. After that performance and another strong outing in Game 4, No. 20 earned some high praise from head coach Quin Snyder.
“He’s been terrific,” Snyder said. “He has led our team. Even the game he had food poisoning and couldn’t play, he actually led our team, because he got out there and almost passed out and did pass out in the back and had to go home. That’s who he’s been. You saw the fruits of his labors with the All-Star game. You saw the same thing with the playoffs. He’s invested. Anytime you invest like that, it may not pay dividends immediately, but it does over time. And in Gordon’s case, it has been a little bit of both. As long as I’ve been here, he’s been that guy. We just do our best to put him in positions where he can excel. His character has shown. His competitiveness. We don’t ask Gordon to be the most vocal guy. People need to be who they are. But there’s a leadership component that he’s demonstrated throughout these playoffs. He’s not the point guard, so you don’t see him directing plays. And he’s maybe not as emotionally charged as Rudy all the time, but it’s burning inside of him. There’s a fire in there, and that’s what I saw in the playoffs. He raised his level at the most important, most competitive time.”
WARRIORS CLAIM GAME 4
In Game 4, the Golden State offense was just too much. The Warriors shot 51.2 percent from the floor and 42.3 percent from three to close out the series. Hayward again had a strong outing, scoring 25 points and grabbing five rebounds. But again, Utah shot under 40 percent from the field and under 30 percent from distance.
The Warriors scored 39 points in the opening frame, but the Jazz immediately started chipping their way back. G-Time did a little bit of everything, tossing out three assists, pick-pocketing Stephen Curry once and scoring seven points. Utah tallied 35 in the second period to cut the deficit to eight at the break.
Gordon scored 12 points in the third quarter, and was able to keep his team within seven with just under three minutes to play. But the Warriors finished the quarter on a 9-2 run and took a 14-point lead into the fourth.
“There were times where we showed we can play with that team, we can beat that team, but there were too many other times where they showed why they are who they are,” Gordon said. “And we’re not there yet. You try to take it as a learning experience.”
G-Time was a consistent force for the Jazz against Golden State. It was something that interim head coach Mike Brown took notice of.
“Gordon Hayward’s tough,” Brown said. “He’s long, he’s athletic. He can score from three levels. He can post up. He moves well without the ball. He can handle the ball. He can play pick and roll. When you watch him, I don’t know what he can’t do. He’s been showing everybody during the playoffs, when it’s most important, he’s a phenomenal talent.”
It was a bittersweet ending for the Jazz and their fans. The playoffs were the ultimate goal, and that was achieved, but no one likes to see their team go home without something to show for it.
As the clock winded down on Utah’s season, Jazz fans chanted “GOR-DON, HAY-WARD,” as he checked out for the final time this season.
“That was really cool,” Gordon said. “I’ve done a lot of growing up here in Salt Lake City. For them to stick with me, stick through us through the downs that we’ve had, it means a lot. And I have nothing but love for this community, so that was pretty special.”