1. Gordon Hayward’s big game made the difference.
Hayward’s had a run of good games of the last 2 weeks, and tonight’s was no exception. He scored 30 points on 13-23 shooting (including 3-8 from 3), he only took and made one free throw. He also picked up 3 assists, 2 rebounds, and 2 steals for his trouble.
The best part, though, was his defense: he limited Rudy Gay to only 4 points on 1-8 shooting. Gay averages 20.2 points per game, so limiting him to just 4 was a major part of the Jazz’s victory tonight. Hayward’s +23 when he was on the floor tonight is the result.
Quin Snyder’s been consistent this season: every time we ask him about one of his players who had a great offensive game, he assesses his defense first. Tonight, again, Quin went to the defensive well, and was incredibly positive about Hayward’s performance:
“The thing he did tonight was play defense off the ball. He got his hands in passing lanes. He had great activity. And I’m not going to be satisfied until he plays every facet of the game, because he has got such a good feel for the game and he’s so impactful when he is engaged. It’s really hard when you’re doing so many different things for your team to not take a breath, and he didn’t do that tonight. There was not a single point in the game where I did not feel like he was engaged. This was maybe one of his best games.”
Hayward’s defensive impact has been very up and down during his career, varying as he’s been asked to take on different roles. But tonight’s game gives an idea of what his defensive ceiling his, something that should encourage fans as Hayward continues to grow.
2. Ty Corbin’s return was without major incident.
Ty Corbin had all the reason in the world to speak defensively tonight: earlier today, a report came out that the Kings could make a coaching switch as soon as the All-Star break, cutting short his contract with the Kings. Furthermore, he was returning to a place that didn’t renew his contract, and he famously was pretty negative on the way out. He was facing a press corps who he once called the least favorite part of his job.
Instead, in his press conference before tonight’s game, Ty Corbin was incredibly upbeat and classy. He said it was “good to be back”, and said that there were “some long-lasting relationships that he missed being around.” About the Jazz, who changed directions away from him as head coach, he said that it was “a great organization to work for”. And finally, he seemed like a proud father about the growth of Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward, who he oversaw for the first 4 years of their careers. It was all really genuine. Credit to Corbin for returning with such grace.1
3. The Jazz successfully avoided costly turnovers.
It’s now been 8 games that the Jazz have gone without committing more than 15 turnovers, which has been a big problem for the team. Coming into tonight’s game, the Jazz were 25th in the league in turnover %2, but they’ve been able to keep the ball much more effectively recently.
That’s good, because turnovers have really hurt the Jazz. This season, they’ve been 29th in opposing points off of turnovers, giving up 19.3 points per 100 possessions. In the last 8 games, however, they’ve been 14th in the league, giving up just 16.2 points per 100 possessions. That 3 point difference is a big deal: not only are they able to keep the ball more often (and score more often as a result), they’re also giving their opponents fewer free points on the other side.
That improvement on both ends is why they’ve been able either to win the last few games, or keep their opponents close 3, despite having a difficult schedule: they’re not allowing their opponents to go on transition-fueled runs.