Wednesday , April 12, 2017 - 10:48 PM
SALT LAKE CITY — Gordon Hayward can already feel the difference.
The seventh-year Utah Jazz forward will play in his first playoff game since 2012 after scoring 14 in a 101-97 regular-season finale win over the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night.
This postseason will be completely different for the first-time All-Star from the four-game, first-round sweep against the Spurs during his second season in the league.
“It’s been so long and I was in a completely different role, so it’s almost like it’s new to me, too,” Hayward said. “This time last year we all would have been booking our flights to wherever we were going on vacation. Shipping cars. People would be out of here.
“There’s definitely a different vibe around the locker room. A different feel.”
Utah enters the playoffs as the fifth seed and will play the Los Angeles Clippers at 8:30 p.m. MDT Saturday in Los Angeles to open the playoffs.
“It’s the real season now, it starts now,” Jazz guard George Hill said. “It’s a game of possessions and every possession matters in the playoffs. You’ve got to control the game.
“(Homecourt) doesn’t matter. ... If you want to win championships, you’ve got to go on the road and win.”
The win was a season-best ninth straight at home, the longest streak for the Jazz since 2012.
Hayward was an efficient 7 for 9 from the field while Rudy Gobert, George Hill and Shelvin Mack all finished with 13 for the Jazz.
LaMarcus Aldridge paced the Spurs with 18 points and Kawhi Leonard added 14. San Antonio faces Memphis in the playoffs on Saturday.
“The way that we’ve approached this is, ‘What do we need to do to help us be ready?‘” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “We needed to play and play well and compete. And we needed to come out of the game healthy.”
Both the Jazz and Spurs played all their players for most of the game, but turned it over to the reserves down the stretch. The Jazz led most of the night before a Kyle Anderson jumper tied the game at 88-88 with just under five minutes remaining. A Shelvin Mack 3-pointer put the Jazz up 96-94 as the two teams went back and forth down the stretch.
San Antonio, however, never led again as a Dante Exum steal with 28 seconds remaining forced the Spurs into a foul situation and the Jazz iced the game from the free-throw line.
“Quin and I basically did the same thing,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “Got some good minutes for the main players so they get a good workout tonight. And then, at the very end, the young kids came in played
“It was a good experience for them and good workouts for everybody else.”
Spurs: Pau Gasol reached the 20,000 career-points with 13 points and now has 20,001 for his career. “It’s very humbling,” Gasol said. “It’s hard to imagine to be able to get to those numbers. It just proves the type of player I am and that I have been and how hard I have had to work to get to those type of milestones.
“I’m just grateful of this moment, grateful for my teammates that have been around me and my coaching staffs that have coached me over the years and allowed me to play the way I have played.”
Jazz: Utah had its ideal starting lineup of Hayward, Rodney Hood, Hill, Gobert and Derrick Favors all available for the first time since March 5, though Hood and Favors didn’t start. The Jazz are 11-2 when that unit starts this season.
The Jazz reached the 50-win mark this season for the first time since 2009-10 and are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2012. Utah embarked on a slow rebuild under general manager Dennis Lindsey and Snyder and watched the wins increase from 25 to 38 to 40 and now 51 since the 2013-14 season.
Popovich let off a few jokes when asked about the trade that sent Boris Diaw to the Jazz last summer.
“It made our dinners a lot less fun,” Popovich said. “He was one of the only guys who would drink with me. I try to corrupt all of my players with wine. He was easy. He was an easy target.”
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