"That was really cool," Hayward said.
By the end of a first-round series with the Los Angeles Clippers, Hayward was the best player. He was No. 4 by my ranking in this series, which is high praise — and he was No. 3 for much of Monday, when he finished with 25 points. But he wore down without much offensive help and went scoreless in the fourth quarter after scoring 12 points in the third periods of Games 2, 3 and 4.
The Jazz wanted to believe they were improving as the series went along. That remained partly true Monday. They enjoyed a nice middle of the game — in between a horrible start and a poor finish. If this were a best-of-nine or best-of-11 series, the Jazz might have won a game or two. But maybe not. They lost four times by an average of 15 points, even if coach Quin Snyder spoke admirably of his team and its season.
"The whole idea is to keep growing and stay committed," Snyder said. "Our guys have done that. … We got a lot out of one another."
These games were scripted, right? Some combination of the Warriors' kidding around in stretches and the Jazz's determination made the last three games worth watching, even if the outcomes were predictable.
"There were times we showed we can play with this team, beat this team … [but] we're not there yet," Hayward said.
The Jazz came from 24 points down early in the second quarter to within six midway through the third period, only to have the Warriors reassert themselves. Wow. How may times did I type some variation of that sentence?
The arena's renovation project will be accelerated now that the season is over, and the Jazz will try to upgrade themselves — or not get worse, which will happen if Hayward departs in free agency. They would like to have finished more favorably at Vivint, instead of losing their last home playoff game for the team's ninth straight postseason appearance since 2001.
Snyder's best personnel move of the series will subject him to some second-guessing, as to why he didn't use Dante Exum more with point guard George Hill remaining injured and Shelvin Mack and Raul Neto struggling. Exum responded with 11 points in the half, helping the Jazz outscore Golden State 35-21 in the second quarter.
Exum started the second half of Game 4 alongside Mack, who produced a strong third quarter. Yet after wobbling, the Warriors extended their lead to 14 points after three quarters, and that was pretty much it.
So the Jazz were swept, just as they were in 2012 when San Antonio dismissed them in a first-round series, with Hayward going 0 for 7 from the field in Game 4. This exercise with the Warriors more closely resembled what happened in 2010 as the Los Angeles Lakers swept the Jazz in the West semis, before Hayward was drafted.
Everybody knew that marked the end of an era, with fiscal issues preventing the Jazz from bringing back all of their players. They lost Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver and Wesley Matthews in free agency that summer, traded Deron Williams the next February and would go seven years without winning one playoff game.
The end in 2016-17 came in Game 4 of a second-round series. That's by far the longest the Jazz have played in Hayward's seven seasons. Where will the next seven years take him? It would be fun to find out here, in a remodeled building that will look a lot better if he's still playing in it.
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