This wasn’t what Gordon Hayward worked for. A shot that never sank. A touch always off. At times, pulled off the court and replaced by rookie Alec Burks. Then stuck on the bench while the Jazz dropped playoff games and watched the postseason they’d longed for quickly disappear.
When Hayward’s first playoff series ended Monday, he’d shot just 18.1 percent (6 of 33) from the floor and 8.3 percent (1 of 12) behind the 3-point line. He was the worst shooter in a Utah uniform, and his four postseason starts were washed away by 122 minutes of failure.
Hayward, 22, knows he’ll learn from his fall. He was one of Utah’s best players during the final two months of a lockout-compressed season, averaging 16.1 points during April while shooting 50.7 percent from the floor and 49 percent beyond the arc.
But all that disappeared during the playoffs. And the No. 9 overall pick of the 2010 NBA Draft — a workaholic who uttered his “improve everyday” mantra before tipoff for Game 4 — acknowledged this isn’t how he initially imagined the first postseason of what will likely be a long, successful career.
“It’s just frustrating. Especially with the work that I put in, to come out and shoot like that,” said Hayward, who was 0 of 7 from the field and scoreless Monday during Utah’s 87-81 defeat. “That’s unacceptable. You’ve got to be able to just knock down shots.”
Spurs guard Manu Ginobili spent three games saying he wasn’t concerned about his shooting touch or overall performance. San Antonio was winning and playing efficient basketball, and that’s all Ginobili cared about.
He had every right to remain cool. After a quiet first half in Game 4 — five points, two made baskets — the 10-year veteran closed down Utah’s night and season.
Ginobili poured in 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting during the second half, drilling three 3-pointers and pushing San Antonio to an 81-60 fourth-quarter lead. All of his 3s came within a brilliant 3:55 stretch that bridged the third and fourth periods, and he regained his touch just in time to silence the Jazz.
“We are a team that has a lot of scorers on the bench and we have been doing that all season long,” Ginobili said. “We try to change the tempo of the game when we come in, and we have four good open shooters. … We have been successful all season long and it is one of our keys to victory.”