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Kragthorpe: Jazz need breakout game from Gordon Hayward — and soon

Published April 19, 2017 12:12 pm

Utah Jazz • While the free agency issue swirls around Jazz star, there's a bigger issue: He need to start hitting some shots
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Jazz hardly could have asked for a better start of the NBA playoffs when it comes to projecting Gordon Hayward's future with the franchise.

That's true in Boston, anyway. Chicago may be doing the Jazz a huge favor, regarding Hayward's potential interest in the Celtics as a free agent this summer. Hayward's own shooting performance is another matter, though. That issue must be resolved as the Jazz's series with the Los Angeles Clippers continues Friday and Sunday at Vivint Smart Home Arena.

How he's playing in April and where he'll be playing in October are fascinating subjects, complicated by teammate Rudy Gobert's knee injury that caused the center to miss most of the first two games in Los Angeles as the Jazz earned a split in the Western Conference first-round series.

In Boston, Chicago shockingly won the first two games of an East series. This might be a case of overthinking and overreacting, but when did that stop any of us? If the Celtics lose this first-round series, Boston logically will become less attractive to Hayward in his search for a championship opportunity. He may have other destinations in mind, but cheering for the Bulls against Boston certainly gives Jazz fans another dimension in watching these playoffs.

Healing for Gobert's knee and a cure for Hayward's shooting are even higher priorities at the moment.

Regular-season results aside, it is tempting to project the Jazz — with Gobert — as the better team in this series. They won Game 1 without him, and even though the Clippers exploited his absence in Game 2 with 54 points in the paint through three quarters, the Jazz stayed in the game deep into the fourth period.

Nobody knows when Gobert will be back, though. And like every aspect of the season-long vigil about Hayward's future, this stuff is tricky. Jazz coach Quin Snyder already is tired of hypothetical questions about Gobert's impact, but here's another one: If Gobert is unable to return before the Clippers close out this series, how would that affect Hayward's view of the Jazz's future?

The past and present of his playoff efforts also are subject to scrutiny. Hayward totaled 39 points in the two games in Los Angeles, but he made only 12 of 33 shots from the field. Even with the disclaimer of a five-year spread between playoff appearances, his 18-of-66 career shooting through six games is disturbing.

His numbers were weird, but explainable in Tuesday's 99-91 loss at the Staples Center, a game he labeled "a little frustrating." Hayward went 3 of 6 from 3-point range and 2 of 9 on other shots, suggesting he's forcing some of those mid-range attempts while being defended closely by the Clippers' Luc Mbah a Moute.

"I thought Gordon had some open looks and so did Joe [Johnson], and we've just got to keep taking those," said Snyder, who's endorsing Hayward's high volume of shots.

Hayward's biggest miss was an open 3-point try from the left wing. That shot came right after he made a 16-footer. Joe Ingles' steal and quick pass gave Hayward a chance to score five points in an eight-second span and pull the Jazz to within three points in the last six minutes. But his shot barely touched the front rim and they never got closer than six points the rest of the way.

"We feel like we didn't play our best basketball, [but] we hung around and hung around," Hayward said.

That's either encouraging or discouraging. And the defense of Mbah a Moute will remain a big element of this series. Hayward's Game 2 production represented "probably 20 of the toughest points he ever had to get," said Clippers guard Chris Paul.

Mbah a Moute "just constantly keeps coming," Paul said. "I think he's so under appreciated. … When everybody else is looking at guys making shots, I'm like, 'Luc, good job, keep going,' because that's what goes unseen and unnoticed, and a big reason why we won."

The Jazz can compensate for Gobert's absence defensively by simply scoring more points. They sure could use a breakout game or two from Hayward this weekend. In the continuing, complex story about what he needs to see from the Jazz in these playoffs, he has to start making shots.


Twitter: @tribkurt






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