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EMPTYING THE NOGGIN - Another marker on Hayward's road to stardom

By David Locke, Utah Jazz

Summary: In a high-scoring, offensively-dominated game, the Jazz outlasted the Timberwolves behind a career-high 39 points from Gordon Hayward, 14 of which came in the 4th quarter.

  • The Utah Jazz are your Northwest Division champs for the ‘16-‘17 NBA season.
  • For seven years, Jazz fans have had a chance to watch Gordon Hayward grow from a scrawny rookie out of Butler, to a stunned kid who took a wet willy from Delonte West, into a bona fide All-Star. Along this road, there have been markers: The rookie year game in Minnesota when Sloan left Hayward in to finish the game en route to 24 points; In 2014 when he dueled with Kevin Durant on his way to 17 4th quarter points and 37 against Oklahoma City; The November battle to start the next season with Carmelo Anthony when he stood toe-to-toe and dropped 33 points; January of 2016 when he put 18 up in the 3rd quarter against Dwayne Wade and Miami. Tonight is another marker — 14 in the 4th quarter on his way to a new career high, 39 points.
  • The beauty of Hayward’s game is he never highjacks possessions from his team. Everything he does is inside the scheme and the framework of the offense. It never just becomes his show. He plays the game correctly. If his teammates are open and the right play is to make the pass, then he will make the pass. It happened tonight when he bypassed a look to get one to Joe Johnson, and started the Joe Johnson ignition in the 3rd quarter.
  • Joe Johnson was vital to this game. He hit his first eight shots. When Joe Johnson has had two days’ rest or more this season, he has been terrific. This bodes well for the playoffs. When he has two days’ rest this season, he is 77 of 145 for 53% FG and is 27 of 54 from 3 ( 50%).
  • The Timberwolves were 28 of 28 from the free throw line.
  • Joe Ingles has taken a huge amount of the ball handling duties recently. He had a career high eight assist tonight. His versatility is awesome. At one point this year, he was the defensive stopper. Then he was a power forward. Now he is basically a point guard at times. He had another solid night from 3, hitting on 2 of 3 and is now 14 of his last 23 from 3.
  • The Jazz’s offense was on fire tonight with an EFG% 69.3. This was not a fast-paced game. It was 91 possessions. The Wolves are the worst defensive team in the NBA in the last 15 games and it showed.
  • Ricky Rubio was terrific for Minnesota. If they are going to trade him to free up Kris Dunn, put me in line with my hand up. I was surprised to see him as -15.
  • Andrew Wiggins finished the night 8 of 21. His mid-range jumper off the bounce is not good.
  • Derrick Favors returned and as Quin Snyder said, the Jazz don’t win this game without Favors. He had four dunks, which is a great sign. He rolled to the basket on a great pick and roll. He is really important to the Jazz success versus the Clippers.
  • Dante had a brutal offensive stretch in the first half and came back in the second half with exceptional defense and hit two 3-point shots. This shows a level of toughness that is a good sign. He has shown consistent signs since the All-Star break.
  • Minnesota has offensive fire power. When they go 28 of 28 from the line and Rubio hits his shots they are the real deal. Plus, they have the stretch-5 that is so difficult for the Jazz to deal with. This had a bad script, and the Jazz survived it.
  • The Jazz will play the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs.