Gordon Hayward made his season debut Sunday by dropping 28 points as the Utah Jazz defeated the New York Knicks 114-109 at Madison Square Garden.
Hayward missed Utah’s first six games after breaking his right finger in training camp. In his absence, Utah was starting veteran Joe Johnson at the small forward position.
Even though Hayward had a poor shooting night which saw him go 6/17 from the field and 2/8 from three-point territory, he made 14/14 shots from the free throw line. |Final Box Score|
Hayward was aggressive in his approach to getting to the basket while Utah’s potent front court led by Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors kept the opposition in check on the defensive end.
With Hayward and Favors back in the starting unit, the Utah are now at full strength.
Prior to the season, many analysts projected the Jazz to finish as a top-5 seed this season. Having begun the season with a 4-3 record, Utah could be well on their way.
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Gordon Hayward returns…
Hayward, who led the Jazz in scoring last season with 19.7 points per game, played 36 minutes in his first match back as New York’s perimeter defenders couldn’t stop him from getting to the rim.
After the win, Jazz coach Quin Snyder said the team could only better with Hayward’s return.
“I think any time you add a player of his caliber, everybody gets to do what they’re good at a little easier,” said the Utah coach.
“There’s a trickle-down effect. I think he gives guys confidence. It allows us to play small with more size and more force,” added Snyder.
In what was a good sign for Utah, all five starters scored in double digits.
While George Hill, who led the team in Hayward’s absence, had 23 points and 9 assists, Rodney Hood had 18 points and 6 rebounds from 38 minutes on the court.
Hill, who was traded to Utah this summer, has formed a potent backcourt with Hood.
“(Hood) was aggressive. When he’s aggressive, we’re a different team. Like I told him going into the fourth quarter when Gordon and I were sitting down, he has to take over the game.”
“Even though Gordon’s back, we need him to be aggressive and be another force on that offensive end,” added Hill.
Gordon Hayward and the Utah Jazz will next visit Philadelphia for a clash with the Sixers on Monday.