Utah Jazz: Gordon Hayward shakes off rough start
Jazz • Forward goes 1 for 8 early, finishes 9 for 18 for 23 points.
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Nothing was falling for Gordon Hayward.

Wide-open shots were bouncing harmlessly off the rim. Aggressive drives to the basket were coming up empty. Two free throws went in and came back out. More than once, Utah's starting small forward looked at the basket with confusion when he missed yet another jumper.

In a 95-83 Utah Jazz victory over the New Orleans Hornets on Friday night, Hayward played about as bad a first half as he's experienced all season. In just over 11 minutes on the court in the first two quarters, the former Butler star had three points on 1-for-8 shooting.

"I was frustrated," Hayward said. "The confidence level was still high, but nothing was dropping. I just kind of told myself that I needed to keep being aggressive offensively if I wanted things to start going my way."

By the end of a win the Jazz absolutely had to pull off, Hayward checked in with a game-high 23 points. He scored 20 of those after halftime. Four of the five 3-point attempts he put up found the bottom of the net. His shooting percentage — miniscule in the first two quarters — climbed all the way to .500 (9 for 18) by the time the 18,023 at EnergySolutions Arena started handing out standing ovations to the Jazz in the final minute.

The outburst was a tale of skill, but also a tale of mental toughness. In the past, Hayward would've gone into a shell, stopped shooting, and tried to contribute in other ways. This season, especially after the All-Star break, Hayward's been resolute in his willingness to take and make big shots.

"I saw one go in and it got a little easier," Hayward said. "You get that first shot to go down and then you get yourself into a bit of a groove. I just had to fight my way through it. I credit my teammates for continuing to find me."

Hayward led a Utah team that saw four players get to double-digits in scoring. It can be argued that he had the most impressive game, even with Paul Millsap checking in with 20 points to go along with 10 rebounds and seven assists.

The Jazz separated themselves from the Hornets largely to Hayward's shooting, which came with crisp ball movement. He and Millsap, along with Derrick Favors, carried the Jazz when it mattered.

tjones@sltrib.com