Going against one of the youngest teams in the NBA in the Cleveland Cavaliers, the visiting Utah Jazz countered with a very veteran starting line-up. And it paid off for most of the game. The Cavs made it interesting at the end, but the Utah Jazz came away with a much-needed road victory, winning 109-100. It marked just Utah’s fourth victory away from EnergySolutions Arena in 17 tries.
For the first time in a while, Tyrone Corbin had his whole roster at his dispersal, but that changed quickly as starting point guard Devin Harris exited early with a strained knee. Likewise, Raja Bell was slowed down a bit by the injury that has hampered him the past few weeks.
Embracing new roles: If his move from the starting line-up to a bench role had any effect on Gordon Hayward, it did not show. In fact, it was the quite the opposite. Playing with great aggressiveness, inhibition, and poise, the second-year man had probably his best game of the season and one of the most well-rounded of his career.
Hayward entered the game with three minutes left in the first quarter and his impact was immediate. He scored 11 points in the first half and bested that in the second with 12 more, finishing with a season-high 23 points. His efficiency was a huge spark, as he shot 8 of 11 from the field, 2 for 3 on three-pointers, and made all five of his free throw attempts. On top of that, he added five assists and four rebounds while not having a single turnover in 27 minutes.
Meanwhile, new starter Josh Howard added 14 points and five rebounds, despite battling some foul trouble.
One game does not a season make, but Monday’s performance was very encouraging for this change in rotation.
Big Al comes up big: Not just one, but two players had one of their most balanced outings of the year. Leading scorer Al Jefferson is used to regularly putting up double-doubles. Triple doubles? Not so much. Against a young front line, the Jazz center had his way, putting up a game-high 25 points while adding 13 boards. The most striking number, however, were the seven assists he added. Not only did it result a new career-best, but it paced Utah.
- Both Cleveland and Utah had a pair of first-round draft picks in the 2011 draft. The Cavs’ duo of Rookie of the Year favorite Kyrie Irving and forward Tristan Thompson combined for 54 minutes of playing time. The Jazz’s tandem of Enes Kanter and Alec Burks played a total of 21.
- Getting time due to Harris’ premature departure, savvy veteran Jamaal Tinsley once again showed his worth. His two treys in the fourth quarter came at critical junctures and he played a smooth, steady floor game.
- Five Cav players tied for their team’s lead in rebounds — just four apiece. Not surprising, Utah won the battle of the boards 46-30.
- Hayward’s marksmanship spearheaded a solid team shooting night, as Utah shot 50 percent from the floor, 56 percent from downtown, and 83 percent from the charity stripe.
David Smith is providing instant analysis for Deseret News' Utah Jazz coverage this season. He works for LDS Philanthropies and also blogs for the Utah Jazz 360 website. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at davidjsmith1232.