Led by Hayward, Jazz move on to new playoff turf
The only thing stopping Gordon Hayward in the playoffs was a case of food poisoning.
Utah’s All-Star forward averaged 23.7 points — breaking out for a career-high 40 in Game 3 — over seven games to propel the Jazz into the second round of the playoffs with a 104-91 victory Sunday over the Los Angeles Clippers.
Hayward fell ill in Game 4 and played just nine minutes in Utah’s win. Despite feeling shaky and weak-legged, he returned in Game 5 to score 27 points in another victory.
Bring on Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and the top-seeded Golden State Warriors.
“You can see his confidence out there,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said of Hayward. “He’s played through missed shots, contact, hot streaks, you name it. He’s handled that with poise, and he’s a heck of an offensive player. He’s so versatile that he’s hard to guard, and we try to use him in a way that allows him to shine in those situations.”
Hayward has never been to the Western Conference semifinals.
“I’m sure people are going to talk about that,” he said. “But we’re moving forward as a team, and we’ll use these experiences to help us.”
Game 1 is tonight in Oakland.
The Warriors have been resting and waiting since last Monday to find out their opponent while the fifth-seeded Jazz played the only first-round series that went the distance.
“We come off a Game 7 win, you feel good, you have some momentum,” said Hayward, who scored 26 points on Sunday. “You can kind of keep it rolling a little bit.”
The Jazz won three of four on the road in the opening round, including Game 7 in Los Angeles.
It was a big boost of confidence for a team that hadn’t won a playoff series since 2010.
“We’ve never been in the second round, so now that’s another first,” Snyder said. “We don’t have to prove that we’re not young and inexperienced. We are. There’s nothing wrong with that. Maybe that can be an advantage in some way.”
The Warriors swept Portland 4-0 in their first-round series that ended a week ago. The time off has allowed them to heal some minor injuries.
Durant will be in the lineup after missing two games and being limited to 20 minutes in Game 4 against the Trail Blazers because of a strained left calf. Reserve Matt Barnes is probable to return from a foot strain, while reserve Shaun Livingston is questionable with a sprained finger on his right hand.
The Warriors haven’t said whether coach Steve Kerr will be back. He missed the last two games of the first round because of complications from two back surgeries. Assistant Mike Brown took over in his absence.
The Jazz overcame foul trouble by big man Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors to shoot 51 percent against the Clippers. Utah’s bench accounted for 38 points: 17 by Favors to go with 11 by Rodney Hood and 10 from Joe Johnson.
“All 15 guys making an effort to pull out this win just shows that we’re a deep team,” said George Hill, who scored 17 points. “The way the ball was moving on the offensive end and the way we’re defending, we can take that and try to carry it on to the next series.”
Hill is one of three veterans, along with Johnson and Boris Diaw, that were brought in to provide some much-needed depth for the Jazz. The trio helped steady the team during the regular season when the lineup was ravaged by injuries to Hayward, Hood, Favors and even Hill.
Golden State took two out of three in the regular season from the Jazz, including a split on the Warriors’ home floor.
The Warriors averaged 103 points to Utah’s 92.66 in the three games. Two of them were decided by seven points or less, while the other was a 30-point blowout victory by the Warriors at home.
Utah’s defense was the league’s best in the regular season.
“We’ve just got to keep pounding away,” Hill said. “Anything is possible. It’s going to take all 15 guys.”