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Kragthorpe: Gordon Hayward gives Jazz some hope vs. Warriors as they come home

Published May 5, 2017 8:24 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Oakland, Calif.

Every answer came with a grimace and a shake of Gordon Hayward's head. "Again," he said with a sigh Thursday, "here we are."

And that before the Golden State Warriors did anything.

Hayward's observation about the Jazz's latest plight in the NBA playoffs came several hours before Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals, as he fielded questions about teammate George Hill's unavailability due to a toe injury.

Then the Jazz took the Oracle Arena court and were overwhelmed at the start. Golden State's 115-104 victory reinforced the belief that the Jazz's winning even one game in this series will be a breakthrough.

Yet even if the margin was about the same, this exercise was not a replay of Game 1. In long stretches, the Jazz appeared capable of playing with Golden State. They went from trailing by 20 points midway through the second quarter to being down by six in the third period.

The Warriors, not surprisingly, reasserted themselves. Even so, Hayward's offensive revival created a shred of hope for the Jazz going into Games 3 and 4 in Salt Lake City.

"Utah got some confidence," said Mike Brown, the Warriors' acting coach.

Hayward scored four points in the first quarter, eight in the second and 12 in the third. Apparently, 16 in the fourth was an unreasonable request. He added nine points, finishing with 33.

Jazz coach Quin Snyder liked Hayward's aggressiveness in the last three quarters, as opposed to waiting to get wide-open shots. "If you're waiting to get more open, you don't get that opportunity," Snyder said.

Hayward confirmed that the Jazz made some kind of discovery about getting into the paint and creating better shots for themselves.

So Hayward found his game, Rudy Gobert established himself with 16 points and 16 rebounds and Dante Exum did some nice things. Those were encouraging developments for the Jazz.

Actually winning a game, though? That's still asking a lot.

"I think we need to play angry from the first minute," Gobert said.

"It's definitely draining," Hayward said of having to battle back. "It all stems from the way we came out of the gates."

The Jazz at least displayed some poise and confidence after looking lost offensively at the start — even though they're used to playing without Hill by now.

Just when the Jazz's assignment appeared daunting enough, their point guard was sidelined. So all they were asking Shelvin Mack and Raul Neto to do was run their offense, make up for Hill's scoring and help stop Stephen Curry and the rest of the Warriors.

How'd that work out? The best answer is Exum played seven minutes of the first half at point guard, as Snyder turned to him in some combination of desperation and disgust. Exum played fearlessly and aggressively, traits his teammates lacked — although Mack came back and played decently at times.

"We played with a little more desperation and urgency after the start," Snyder said.

In his pregame media session, Snyder had said, "The constitution of the team is resilience." He insisted his players would not take a "defeatist" attitude into Game 2, even with Hill missing.

Yet that's exactly how a lot of them looked, initially hesitating to shoot and then missing a bunch of long heaves. And they couldn't match Draymond Green, who made five 3-pointers in the first half.

Hayward and his teammates found some solutions by driving in the second quarter, using a 10-0 run to get within 10 points before the Warriors took a 60-47 halftime lead.

Golden State committed 17 turnovers Thursday, after having only seven in Game 1. The Warriors also dipped below 50-percent shooting from the field, although their four top offensive players totaled 83 points and 30 assists.

The Jazz did succeed in making Golden State's starters play until the buzzer, unlike their coasting to the finish Tuesday. "It's a good thing," Brown said of being tested. "We like that challenge."

And that's why, asked if he was encouraged or discouraged about Games 1 and 2, Snyder said, "Probably a little bit of both."

Curry cited "probably three, four, maybe five possessions where we just lost our [defensive] focus." He added, "It's going to be even tougher when we get to Utah."

Not that anything will come easily for the Jazz in this series. After the team's morning shootaround in San Francisco, Hayward played along with suggestions that the Jazz are accustomed to injury issues. But the personnel situation is hardly ideal at this stage of the playoffs.

Going forward, Hill's history of injuries this season has to affect how the Jazz view their future at his position as he becomes a free agent this summer. The Jazz have used 11 starting point guards since the February 2011 trade of Deron Williams, and they wanted Hill to become a permanent solution.

That's hardly the best description of his 2016-17 season. Hill missed 33 games during the regular season, with injuries from head to toe — including thumb, concussion, and groin problems. He's valuable, that's for sure. The Jazz went 33-16 with him and 18-15 without him in the regular season.

Hill's injury aside, Jazz guard Joe Ingles cited a shock factor in Game 1. With more familiarity in the series, he predicted, "We'll get better and better as it goes on."

That might be true. If this series lasts longer than four games, the Jazz certainly will have improved.


Twitter: @tribkurt






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