It’s Tuesday night, January 10th 2017. The Cleveland Cavaliers, led by LeBron James, are in town. The arena is at capacity and roaring with energy.
The Utah Jazz, sporting a 23-16, are playing host to the King and his court of knights.
There were runs, lead changes, and ties. However, in the end a healthy much improved Jazz squad prevailed and handed LeBron James his sixth straight loss in Salt Lake City. Yes, you read that right, the King is win-less through six straight battles in the kingdom of Salt Lake. LeBron did not disappoint in a loss, However.
Nor did Gordon Hayward.
James and Hayward practically paced each other quarter by quarter. Hayward brandished 13 points at half while James responded with 10. The Utah Jazz had a 15 point lead at the half. I remember telling those around me to be mindful of LeBron James, that no lead was safe with his presence in the game.
Sure enough, my statement proved prophetic much to the cursing and frustration of those around me.
The third quarter is where the intensity matched playoff levels. It featured a gunslinger’s dual between the King and G-Time. LeBron scored 13 points, during a stretch that saw the Cavaliers go from down 15 to leading by two points. Then Hayward answered, brandishing his pistol to the tune of 11 points. Meanwhile the Jazz regained the lead and pushed it to nine points to finish the quarter.
The contest, the duel was truly magnificent. Hayward continues to improve and impress. He’s raised his game to All-Star level. If you doubt, then his performance versus James should prompt revisiting your ballot. Those in attendance Tuesday night witnessed a duel for the ages.
In fact, Hayward’s line Tuesday is a sight to behold. He scored 28 points. However the impressive numbers are in how he got there. He missed two shots all night. Finished shooting a blazing 83% from the floor and 80% from downtown. What’s more, he was a rebound shy of a double-double.
Gordon Hayward’s improved in almost every category this season – points per game, rebounds, even getting to the free throw line more. He’s scored 30 points on five separate occasions and near that five additional times. He reached that mark all of three times all of last season. Take note, Hayward the star, has arrived.
Last January, I wrote of his imminent growth to stardom. It’s happening right before our eyes. There’s no coincidence that his growth parallels the team’s current success. Additionally, his supporting cast is bolstered with veteran leadership sporting a resume of playoff experience. However, it’s Hayward’s continued success and perseverance that has kept the Utah Jazz competitive in spite of the plague of injuries this season.
His performances haven’t been flashy or especially eye-popping. He simply plays hard and displays a crafty patience. He picks his moments, looks for opportunities and silently shines.
Tuesday night saw a duel of stars and another step towards the end goal, the playoffs. Hopefully, the night changed a few minds and opinions on Hayward’s bid for his first All-Star appearance. If one should have any additional hope, it’s that Gordon Hayward’s future with the Utah Jazz stays intact. With the gaudy numbers he continues putting up, more teams and general managers will take notice. Interest will continue to increase.
Word of advice: Vote. Vote now. Vote everyday with a feverish urgency.
Hayward is a star. He presented himself in kingly fashion before the King’s court. Take that to the bank.