SALT LAKE CITY – Gordon Hayward certainly could have been the goat Monday night after moving over to shooting guard for the Utah Jazz and tossing up nothing but bricks early.
Yet the second-year pro kept playing and hustling, and it ultimately paid off in a 93-89 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.
Hayward shook off an 0-for-8 start to finish with 12 points. Late in the game, he had a block, a steal and a key rebound, and sank three of four free throws down the stretch as the Jazz prevailed.
“I was trying to forget the first half,” Hayward said. “It’s something I don’t think any player wants to do … missing layups, missing wide-open shots. … You need to keep shooting.”
The Jazz called this win especially big considering it came against their Northwest Division rivals, a team that had beaten them three straight times to end last season.
“With the records and the standings and being in the same division, we needed to win. When it comes to the end of the year, we need to have the tiebreakers,” said C.J. Miles, who had 15 points off the bench for Utah.
Paul Millsap led Utah with 19 points and 15 rebounds, and the Jazz held a 51-37 edge on the boards.
Still, they appeared headed for their fourth loss at home, especially playing without starting centre Al Jefferson (right ankle inflammation) and guard Raja Bell (strained right adductor).
The Jazz were shooting just 27.3 per cent at one point in the first half, and LaMarcus Aldridge started lighting them up in the second.
Aldridge scored 14 of his team’s first 18 points in the third, hitting his first six shots as Portland built its lead to 63-52 with 5:32 left.
“We definitely had control and we let it slip away,” said Aldridge, who finished with 25 points and seven rebounds. “No excuses. They kept playing hard and they ended up coming back and stealing one.”
The Jazz started their comeback late in the third with a 10-0 run behind point guard Devin Harris. He hit a long jumper, sank a free throw, then stole the ball from Jamal Crawford and fed Millsap for a jam that cut Portland’s lead to 63-59 with 2:58 left in the quarter. Harris capped the run with a short jumper off a fast break.
Hayward hit a three-pointer to tie it at 65 with 1:26 left in the quarter. In the fourth, the Jazz trailed 79-74 when they went on a 13-0 run.
Millsap had four points in the spurt, but reserves Earl Watson, Jeremy Evans and Miles provided the spark.
Watson scored on a fast-break layup and 19-foot jumper, and passed to Evans for an alley-oop dunk.
“One to 13, the guys did a tremendous job just staying in there,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “Things weren’t going well for us early. But we stayed together, kept encouraging each other and forcing each other to play a little harder. It’s a great team win for us.”
Aldridge ended a six-minute Blazers scoring drought with a hook shot, and Nicolas Batum followed with a three-pointer to pull Portland to 87-84.
But Hayward blocked Crawford’s layup, and Millsap hit a jumper for a five-point Jazz lead with 1:43 left.
The Blazers were down 90-87 with 13.3 seconds left, but Wesley Matthews drove the lane for a layup rather than look for a 3-pointer, and Portland tried to force the Jazz to make free throws to close it out.
Miles went to the line and made one but missed the second, only to have Hayward grab the rebound. He sank both foul shots to seal the win with 2.3 seconds left.
The loss was the eighth in 11 road games for the Blazers. They also lost Batum to an injury late in the game. He had to be helped off the court and is expected to have an MRI on his left knee Tuesday.
“We simply got outworked,” Portland coach Nate McMillan said.
The Trail Blazers gave up 24 second-chance points and were outscored 20-6 on fast-break points.
“They were the aggressors throughout, not only on the offensive end but on defence,” McMillan said. “Earl Watson was really good on the ball, and (rookie Enes) Kanter came in and was real good defending the post. They were the physical team tonight and earned the right to win this game.”
NOTES: Jefferson, bothered by inflammation in his right ankle, missed his third game in two seasons with the Jazz. Bell had started every game this season but strained his right adductor Saturday against Sacramento. … In the first half, the teams were a combined 2 of 14 from three-point range. … Gerald Wallace was assessed a technical foul in the fourth quarter in the midst of the 13-0 Jazz run. … The Trail Blazers gave up a season-high 38 free throws.