SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah Jazz swingman Gordon Hayward said he initially felt like ripping Delonte West's finger off and fighting him after he jabbed it into Hayward's right ear during the second quarter of Monday night's triple-overtime win against Dallas.
"I wanted to fight right there, but you can't do that," Hayward said before Tuesday's practice. "It wouldn't have been the smart idea. I'd risk getting a technical foul, getting suspended for the season, whatever. There's more important things than fighting someone out on the court. The more important thing was getting the win and we were able to do that."
Hayward acknowledged Tuesday that many of his teammates might have reacted differently.
But Hayward, who raised both arms and walked away, said he "got the last laugh" as the Jazz prevailed 123-121 to keep their slim playoff hopes alive with four games remaining.
The incident, which earned West a technical foul after his personal foul but no ejection, lit up twitter after Monday night's 3 hour-and-17 minute thriller.
West insisted afterward that Hayward had lint in his hair and he wanted to give him a "wet willy".
He also acknowledged getting caught up in the emotion.
"We are two warriors, out here battling," West said, unsure if he would be facing a fine. "I forgot the NBA is a gentleman's game."
So what is it about the second-year pro who is still teased for his Justin Bieber looks that would make a player like West try to get into his head — literally?
Some say Hayward, who grew up in Indiana, has a little Reggie Miller in him.
"I'm a competitor and I play physically out there," said Hayward, who a few years ago led Butler to the NCAA championship game. "I'm going to fight for position and not back down. I don't think a lot of guys like that."
Others point to Hayward's inspired play of late, where he has found his stroke and stepped it up defensively. He is averaging 17.4 points a game, 4.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists in his last 10 starts. That included a 29-point effort last week at Houston — including four 3-pointers — that gave Utah the tiebreaker in the series with a team just above it in the bid for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot.
Utah entered Tuesday just a half game out of eighth place.
Hayward said he realized Monday night that West was frustrated when West bumped him the first time.
Hayward finished with 24 points on 8-of-17 shooting, and 4 of 6 from 3-point range. He also had four rebounds, five assists, a steal and a blocked shot.
West finished with 16 points, making 5 of 8 shots and both from beyond the arc, with one rebound, one steal and a block. While Hayward played 54 minutes, West was on the court just 27.
Jazz big man Al Jefferson put up some shocking numbers, with 28 points and 26 rebounds to tie a career high.
Nothing was more shocking to him than the poke seen round the NBA world.
"Gordon's a better man than me," Jefferson said, referring to Hayward's restraint. "But that just shows you the type of person he is. He got the last laugh on the court. Me and Delonte West are good friends. If it had been anybody else that would have done that to me, I probably wouldn't have took it as well as Gordon did."
The NBA league office did not immediately return calls about whether a fine would be forthcoming.
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