The Minnesota Timberwolves travelled to Utah on Friday night to battle the Jazz in a critical game for Utah’s playoff hopes. With the Los Angeles Lakers and Jazz fighting it out for the final seed in the West, the Jazz looked to their bigs to help them past the lottery-bound Timberwolves.
Nikola Pekovic sat out Friday night’s meeting against the Jazz with an injured left calf. The frontcourt matchup was made increasingly more difficult with the absence of the Wolves starting center. Minnesota defended the interior well in the first period despite facing mismatches in Utah’s favor. The Jazz led 11-10 after the first timeout about midway through the first quarter.
Utah began to expand on their lead following Ricky Rubio’s second foul with around four minutes remaining in the first. The starting Jazz bigs of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap did a nice job of running the floor in transition.
Gordon Hayward capped off a nice first quarter with a half court drain as the first quarter buzzer sounded to give Utah a 30-22 lead after one. JJ Barea was a big factor early as he was one of the only Pups gaining penetration against Utah’s half court defense. Barea hit two quick three-pointers to begin the second period with the second make coming from at least five feet behind the arc. After a pair of Barea free throws and a layup, the Wolves tied the game at 32 with Barea having scored half of Minnesota’s points only two minutes into the second quarter.
A Rubio and-1 gave the Wolves a 52-51 lead with nearly 1:30 to play in the opening half. The two teams traded turnovers before the break and led by a 19-point first half from Barea the Pups went into the locker room with a 54-53 lead.
Derrick Williams started the second half hot scoring six quick points out of the break. On the other side, Al Jefferson continued to be a steady presence in the paint and looked unfazed by the defense brought on by Greg Stiemsma. The Pups held a five point lead with 5 remaining in the third.
The Jazz got hot at the end of the third quarter and entered the final period wih a 82-81 lead with Jefferson approaching his career high for points in a game. Utah continued to fee their man in the middle and whenever the Wolves would collapse on him, Big Al did a tremendous job of finding one of the numerous Jazz three-point shooters waiting patiently on the perimeter. With just over nine minutes left, the Jazz led 90-88.
Jefferson continued to inch closer to his career-high 40 points as he sat at 34 with just under seven minutes to play. The other former Timberwolf, Randy Foye, hit his fifth three-pointer of the game which was not soon after followed by a Jefferson hook shot extending Utah’s lead to 97-90 midway through the final quarter.
With 4:49 remaining, Derrick Favors got issued with a flagrant 1 foul on Barea after Minnesota’s undersized point guard was thrown to the hardwood. Two free throws and back-to-back threes from Rubio gave the Wolves a one point edge at the three minute mark.
While the Wolves made this game very interesting, they were only able to score two points in the final three minutes and the Jazz left with a 107-100 victory. Jefferson tied his career-high with 40 points and came through in the clutch as Utah is currently in a dog fight for the eighth and final seed in the Western Conference.
Keys of the Game:
- Three-point shooting - Both the Wolves and Jazz recorded 8 made three-pointers, but needed 22 and 13 attempts, respectively. While the Wolves shot relatively good from long distance, Utah shot much more efficiently.
- Points in the paint - Led by Jefferson on the low block, Utah scored 44 points in the paint compared to only 32 by the Pups.
Three Stars of the Game:
- Al Jefferson - Scoring a game-high 40 points on 19-27 FG to pair with 13 rebounds and 6 assists, Big Al was all over the floor in his 41 minutes of play. Since being acquired by Utah from Minnesota, Big Al has had several big performances over his former squad and he absolutely torched Minnesota’s interior defense on Friday night.
- JJ Barea - Minnesota desperately needed offense in the first half and Barea kept them afloat with an impressive 19 points in the opening half. Although he scored only 4 points in the second half, his 23 points (6-14 FG, 2-6 3Pt) were the most scored by any Pup despite him playing only 27 minutes.
- Randy Foye - The other former Pup shot 5-7 from beyond the arc as he finished with 16 points in 38 minutes. Foye has been Utah’s best three-point shooter this season and was a +12 against the Wolves on Friday night.