A sluggish first half brought back nightmares of Utah’s last game against Minnesota (a 107-80 loss on March 1), but the Jazz came alive in the second half to take down the Timberwolves 120-113 Friday night.
The Jazz (49-30) overcame a huge free-throw discrepancy and foul trouble by Rudy Gobert to escape with the victory, and they currently sit in fourth place in the Western Conference standings (one game ahead of the LA Clippers).
Gordon Hayward set a new career-high with 39 points, while Gobert added 16 points, five rebounds and two blocks in only 27 minutes. He picked up his third foul with 1.3 seconds left in the first half, and then his fourth just 30 seconds into the third quarter. Gobert finished with five fouls and played only nine minutes in the second half.
Joe Johnson hit his first eight shots of the night and finished with 22 points, including seven straight Utah points to close the third quarter.
Minnesota’s trio of Karl-Anthony Towns (32 points, 13 rebounds), Ricky Rubio (26 points, 12 assists) and Andrew Wiggins (25 points) provided most of the offense for the Timberwolves (31-48) in the loss.
Oh, what a night for Gordon Hayward. He shot 14-for-22 from the field (including 4-for-5 from 3-point range) and 7-for-8 from the line to set a new career high in scoring. More importantly, Hayward came up huge when the Jazz needed him the most, scoring 25 of his 39 points during Utah’s second-half comeback. He converted a handful of timely shots, including a 3-pointer out of a timeout early in the third quarter; two tough three-point plays; and a clutch fadeaway over two defenders that helped the Jazz maintain their slim lead in the closing minutes. Ironically, his easiest points came very last—he was fouled intentionally with 3.8 seconds left and made two free throws to get his 38th and 39th points.
The Jazz called a timeout after Minnesota took an eight-point lead early in the third quarter. Coming out of that break, Hayward and Johnson drilled back-to-back threes to get Utah’s stagnant offense going. After Danté Exum stopped Towns at the rim, Hayward took the ball coast to coast for a transition layup. Minnesota added another bucket, but Exum drilled a three from the wing to give Utah its first lead since the 2:32 mark of the first quarter.
The Wolves pulled back within one with just under four minutes left in regulation, but Johnson hit two free throws and then grabbed a steal, took the ball in transition, and dished to Gobert for a two-handed dunk that pushed Utah’s lead to five with 3:03 left. Minnesota kept it close with three buckets, but Hayward took over, drilling a fadeaway jumper and then converting a tough three-point play to give Utah a four-point lead with 1:17 remaining. The Jazz then sealed the game at the free-throw line.
Minnesota built its early lead thanks in large part to its remarkable efficiency from the free-throw line. The Timberwolves went to the line often and didn’t miss an attempt, shooting a perfect 28-for-28 for the game. Rubio (11-for-11), Wiggins (9-for-9) and Towns (5-for-5) did the most damage. Utah shot 16-for-22, with a handful of those coming in the closing minutes when the Wolves were fouling intentionally. After three quarters, Minnesota had shot 26 free throws to Utah’s 13.
The Wolves might have lived at the line, but the Jazz were on fire from beyond the arc—especially in the third quarter. Utah shot 14-for-25 (56.0 percent) overall, and a scorching 8-for-11 (72.7 percent) in the third quarter. Hayward, Johnson and Exum drilled two threes each in the third period, while Joe Ingles and Rodney Hood added one apiece.
Coach’s Quote of the Night
“I think [Gordon] is being rewarded for his investment. His whole heart is in it—he’s all-in. You’re not going to play well every night—particularly down the stretch, it was hard for us to get a stop. But for him to answer and answer and answer at those crucial times was a different type of win for us.”
Jazz head coach Quin Snyder
Utah clinched the Northwest Division title with the win. It’s the ninth division title in franchise history, and the first since the 2007-08 season. … The Jazz shot 60.0 percent from the field. … Ingles finished with 11 points and a team-high eight assists. … Derrick Favors (knee) returned to action after missing the last 13 games. He scored 13 points and grabbed five rebounds in 17 minutes. … The game featured 10 ties and 19 lead changes. … Gobert and Jazz head coach Quin Snyder each picked up a technical foul in the fourth quarter (at different times). … George Hill (groin) and Raul Neto (groin) were out for the Jazz.
The Jazz will hit the road for a matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. MT, and the game will be televised on ROOT SPORTS.