Gordon Hayward sat near the end of the Jazz bench, his shooting shirt over his jersey and a towel hanging around his neck. It was a strange sight, given the circumstances.
From the outset of the season, Ty Corbin has closed games with Hayward (and the fourth-year wing has often been the one with the ball in his hands, taking key shots, however few of them there have been this season, late in games). Recently, Corbin has brought the rest of the guys with their pictures outside the arena along. Those five were on the floor together late against the Pacers and the 76ers last week.
But on Wednesday, with Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors on the court, Hayward was the odd man out.
And it was odd indeed.
Instead, it was Richard Jefferson occupying that spot, with the Jazz in a fight against the Dallas Mavericks. Jefferson subbed in for Hayward with 8:01 to play in the game and the Jazz down five, though Devin Harris was about to make it six with a free throw.
That group cut the lead to one with 4:50 left and it seemed like Hayward would get the call from the end of the bench at any time.
But Corbin rode Jefferson longer than I think most expected.
His reasoning: "Defensively, I thought he was doing a good job. He made some shots. He made a couple good drives to the basket. And Gordon wasn't shooting as well as he had been."
Before Hayward was taken out at that eight-minute mark, he had missed a pair of open 3-pointers. One would have given the Jazz a six-point lead, the other would have tied the game at 88.
Hayward's been plagued by shooting struggles most of the season. On Wednesday he was 3 of 7 from the floor.
"You want to be in the game," Hayward said afterward. "But I wasn't hitting shots. So it was Coach's decision."
Jefferson was 4 of 10 heading into the fourth, and he finished 4 of 12.
Corbin called for Hayward and Marvin Williams off the bench just before Burke hit a 3-pointer to make it a 101-96 game with under three minutes to play. Hayward didn't get in until 1:48. At that point, it was a 10-point game.
As I said, it seemed strange, but perhaps it was just fitting in Corbin's philosophy of development. Before the game, he was asked about handling those minutes for his young players given how late it is in the season, and the team's record.
Here was Corbin's answer:
"I never think that it's good just to play guys just to play guys. I think you teach guys how to play right to win. We are where we are. We understand we want to develop the young guys. But we want to develop them to play a certain way. That's not just putting them on the floor. We understand that they're going to play and they may play more in on situation, or we'll try different combinations in different situations.
"… But we're playing to develop winners. We're not just playing young guys to be on the floor. It's a delicate balance in between. If they're playing well, we'll extend it. If they're not [we're] trying not to look really, really bad trying to do that. We want to make sure that we play a certain way and teach these guys how to play to win. That may not go well with some people who think they know better, but that's where I am."
— Aaron Falk
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