Something about shaving and getting his mop of hair cut once in a while makes Jazz swingman Gordon Hayward look even younger than 22.
Even so, judging by Monday’s performance, he probably should consider undergoing such grooming more frequently for his team’s benefit. Shooting is such a struggle for the Jazz lately that production like Hayward’s season-high 27-point effort in a 100-94 victory over Dallas tended to make him very noticeable, even without any styling alterations.
There were a bunch of other reasons the Jazz steeled themselves in the fourth quarter and ground out this win, starting with the terrific hustle of Hayward to block Roddy Beaubois’ breakaway layup when the Mavericks were leading by eight points and the Jazz’s frustration was building.
Effort is not an issue with this team, but offensive performance remains a problem. Hayward’s 8-of-14 shooting, including four 3-pointers, was vital.
“That’s why you put the work in … so when you get to the game, you can step up and shoot ’em and you don’t have to worry about it,” Hayward said.
That subject is agonizing enough for Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin, who keeps searching for offense. Even with Hayward’s breakout game, the Jazz barely shot 40 percent from the field. They’re now in the bottom half of the NBA in shooting, which is unfamiliar territory for this franchise.
Think back to opening night, when newcomers Mo Williams and Marvin Williams both scored 21 points against Dallas. That was a Halloween masquerade. Since then, the Jazz rarely have resembled a capable offensive team.
To mark the Mavs’ return Monday, the Williamses scored three points between them. That’s not good, especially considering that Mo is out, recovering from thumb surgery. Other than Hayward, the Jazz shot in the mid-30s as nobody else made more than half of his shots.
Jazz assistant coach Jeff Hornacek kidded Hayward about finally getting the hair out of his eyes and being able to see the rim. Whatever the reason, something worked with Hayward’s shot.
The Jazz clearly needed Hayward’s accuracy. Hayward himself needed something like this. His big night came exactly eight months after his 0-for-7 shooting helped end the Jazz’s brief playoff competition with San Antonio, completing a 6-of-33 series.
In his third pro season, it is apparent that outside shooting ability is all Hayward needs to become an All-Star someday. He’s developing an aggressive style of driving into the lane — that’s how he scored the go-ahead basket with 4 minutes, 2 seconds remaining — and his jumper is improving gradually. He mixed in a mid-range game Monday to make himself more effective, and his 3-pointer from a slight left angle pushed the Jazz’s lead to 93-86 with 2:19 remaining.
Best of all, that clutch shot came via an Al Jefferson assist. “Big Al did a tremendous job of kicking it out of the double-team,” Hayward said, “and it’s my job to step up and knock it down, and that’s what I did.”
And the Jazz battled back in the fourth quarter. The Mavs made it much tougher on them than in October, when Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman were missing. Nowitzki scored 20 points and was entangled in a few rough plays Monday, including one sequence when Hayward absorbed a hand to the face then circled back and scored on his drive.
The Jazz showed some toughness and courage in this game, but those traits are insufficient when it comes to winning in the NBA. At some point, the ball has to go in the basket. Hayward made it happen Monday, just often enough.