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Kragthorpe: Jazz can give home fans a better ending vs. Warriors, if nothing else

First Published      Last Updated Jul 02 2017 06:16 pm

Gordon Hayward stopped and popped from the right wing. When his 3-point shot went through the net, he responded with a golfer's clenched fist, as if savoring a tough par putt.

That's about as much emotion as Hayward will show, and the nine-point lead that he helped build in Saturday's third quarter probably evoked as much celebration as Jazz fans will enjoy in the Western Conference semifinals vs. Golden State. Thanks to the Warriors' 102-91 victory, the Jazz are down to one remaining chance for momentary pleasure in Monday night's Game 4 at Vivint Smart Home Arena.

It's their last shot, in multiple ways.




Another opportunity to win their last home playoff game of the season, something the Jazz haven't done since 2000.

Another chance to make Hayward believe there's merit in staying in Utah and competing with the Warriors in the West.

Another 48 minutes for Jazz fans to appreciate what this team has given them in 2016-17 and to witness the Warriors on their way toward the NBA Finals — even if those guys became less likable Saturday when they sparred with Rudy Gobert, Jazz fans and even the Bear mascot.

Hayward's 29-point effort was insufficient in Game 4, but he has been outstanding in the playoffs. Even without having point guard George Hill to share the offensive load, due to Hill's sprained toe, Hayward has totaled 62 points in the last two games vs. Golden State. In 10 playoff games against the Los Angeles Clippers and the Warriors, he's averaging 24.0 points and shooting roughly 45 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the free-throw line.

Those numbers would be even better without his attempt to play while suffering from food poisoning in Game 4 against the Clippers, although that effort impressed Jazz coach Quin Snyder even more than Hayward's other performances.

Any remaining questions about Hayward's value to the Jazz have been resoundingly answered in these playoffs. April became a breakthrough for him and the franchise, via a Game 7 win over the Clippers.

May has been a struggle for this team, as everybody knew it would be. Hayward and Gobert are the two Jazzmen who look like they belong on the court with Golden State.

The Warriors are just too good, although the Jazz have created some hope of competing with them — ironically enough, by what they haven't done. With any help from Joe Johnson and Rodney Hood, and with Hill available, the Jazz might have matched the Warriors' offense in Game 3. Telling sequences included Hayward's passes that gave Boris Diaw and Joe Johnson wide-open looks from the corners in the fourth quarter of a tight game, only to have them miss 3-pointers.

Afterward, given a choice of answers to describe the feeling of coming closer to Golden State, Hayward went with "definitely encouraging." It's true that the Jazz have come a long way since Game 1, when they were overwhelmed from the start at Oracle Arena. Never mind that they've lost by 12, 11 and 11 points. They've played markedly better in each game.

The question — in the case of Monday's game and in Hayward's impending free agency — is whether playing respectably against the Warriors is satisfying enough. He could move to the Eastern Conference, where he would have to deal with Golden State only in the NBA Finals.

That's why a proper sendoff for the '16-17 Jazz would be meaningful Monday. They lost to the Clippers in Game 6, which logically figured to be their last home game of the season. But they gave themselves a chance for a better ending at Vivint by winning Game 7 in Los Angeles. The reality is that Saturday probably was their best chance to beat the Warriors even once, because Golden State and other road teams are historically vulnerable in Game 3.

With a close-out opportunity Monday, the Warriors try to match what they did in Portland last week, when they won Game 4 by 25 points.

The Trail Blazers undoubtedly were demoralized after losing a 16-point lead in Game 3, resembling the Jazz's missed opportunity Saturday. The Jazz have one more shot to create a memory that would get them through the summer, no matter what happened after that.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com Twitter: @tribkurt

 

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