Hayward steps up, shows what the Jazz needed all along
Utah Jazz's Gordon Hayward (20) celebrates after scoring against the Cleveland Cavaliers late in the fourth quarter during an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014, in Salt Lake City. Utah won 102-100. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Does Gordon Hayward look different to you?
Yeah, the Utah Jazz forward is much bigger than he was when he first joined the team in 2010. There’s a lot more muscle on his arms, chest and shoulders.
He’s also older, too. He’s married now.
His face is scruffier and don’t quote me on this but I think he’s got a new haircut.
But that’s not it. There’s something else, something different.
It’s confidence. It’s the confidence that comes with being a captain, a leader. It’s the confidence that comes from hitting a huge, last-second, game-winning shot like he did Wednesday to beat LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 102-100 at EnergySolutions Arena.
Hayward finished with 21 points and added seven assists, four rebounds and a really nifty blocked shot.
From where he started – remember when Deron Williams threw the ball at him because he ran the wrong way on a fastbreak? – to where he was after Wednesday’s game is nothing short of an amazing transformation.
After hitting the shot that folks are now calling his “signature moment,” Hayward, who is usually pretty reserved and rarely emotional, allowed himself to take in the moment. While he was being interviewed for TV, he urged on the already-amped crowd, and sure enough, his fans and his teammates responded.
Coach Quin Snyder said it was Hayward’s shot all along. He said he never doubted it.
“Exhilaration, exciting,” he said. “Your teammates surround you, fans are going crazy. It just gets you hyped. I don’t think you can be in that type of atmosphere and not be pumped up.”
The thing about Hayward is that he has always had this in him. He has always had the ability to lead and to be surrounded by his teammates. But until this season the timing never seemed to be right.
It was Williams’ team or it was Al Jefferson’s team or it was Tyrone Corbin’s team. Shoot, even after Hayward became the lead dog in the locker room his bosses were begging him to step up and become what he was on Wednesday.
Personally speaking, as someone who has been watching him closely from the beginning, it has been fun to watch him come around.
“It’s a process, still a lot of room to go. A lot more I can improve on,” he said. “I missed a wide-open layup there at the end and that’s got to be better. But actually I saw Raja Bell tonight and that brings back memories. He helped mentor me.”
Hayward said he’s in “kind of a cycle,” meaning he was once mentored by locker room vets like Bell (not always a great example, I suppose) and many others. Now he’s the one doing the mentoring for some of the team’s younger players.
Late in Wednesday’s game he was seen getting after his teammates, imploring them to give a little more. At other times he has been seen in teaching moments on the bench, even during timeouts.
Again, that’s always been in him but it took a while to come out and, clearly, Jazz brass had to clear the way for it to happen.
“When you’re a rookie you learn so much, you wait your turn,” he said. “Then, when you have your moment, if you’ve paid attention and you continue to work and you execute, you (can) get it like I did tonight.”
Spoken like the leader the Jazz need him to be.
Jim Burton is the Standard-Examiner’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 801-625-4265 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @StandardExJimbo