MINNEAPOLIS — Hot Rod Hundley famously called them the "pesky Timberwolves."
Al Jefferson used to call them his team.
Now Minnesota can call itself a member of an ever-growing club.
For the 10th time this season, the Utah Jazz gutted out a victory after trailing by double digits. And for the sixth time, they did it after finding themselves down by at least 15 points.
The T-Wolves became Utah's latest victim Wednesday night as the Jazz howled back with a huge fourth quarter to pull off an exciting 112-107 win at the Target Center.
The Jazz weren't the only ones who rallied. After a rough first half, Jefferson scored a whopping 21 points in the last two quarters in the comeback.
"It's too much pressure. We make it hard on ourselves," said Jefferson, who finished with 23 points and exhaled a sigh of relief after beating his old buddies. "But, hey, it showed that we don't give up (and) — we can look down and get it from somewhere, and that's what we did tonight."
After trailing by 15 in the first half and by 14 late in the third, Utah (21-9) scrapped, scraped and outscored Minnesota (6-24) by a whopping 41-24 in the final period.
"We had to overcome a lot," Jazz point guard Deron Williams said. "They played well. That team played well over there. They battled. They took us out of our rhythm early and we didn't start really playing until that fourth quarter."
But, what a fourth it was.
After an extended rally, Paul Millsap finally gave the Jazz their first lead with a hard-earned three-point play with 33.5 seconds remaining.
Gordon Hayward — yes, the rarely used rookie — clinched the Jazz's latest rallying effort with a slam dunk and a free throw with 13 seconds to go.
"We just keep fighting," Williams said. "We know if we can keep chipping away and give ourselves a chance to get back into the game we'll get our confidence up and we get going."
Despite playing one of the worst teams in the NBA record-wise, it took a bit more effort to pull this comeback off. Utah entered the fourth 12 points down and trailed by seven with three minutes left.
But, as has so often been the case in this Season of the Comeback, the Jazz did.
Utah's third win in a row moved Jerry Sloan into sole possession of third place on the NBA's all-time coaching wins list. He tied Pat Riley with Monday's win at Cleveland and surpassed the legend with win No. 1,211 to trail only Don Nelson (1,335) and Lenny Wilkens (1,332).
"I'm more proud of the win," said Sloan, who has coached Utah for the past 23 years. "I'm not into numbers and stuff like that."
Another thing Sloan is not into? Slow starts by his crockpot of a team.
Utah fell behind early, trailing by nine at the end of one quarter and by 11 at halftime. A chilly 34.3 percent shooting half by the Jazz and a 7-for-11 start from the 3-point line for the T-Wolves contributed to the latest rough beginning.
"The way we started the ballgame just wasn't what I expected, knowing where we are and what we're trying to accomplish each time you step out there," Sloan said. "I thought they outworked us. They outhustled us. They executed their stuff. We couldn't get over screens.
"Then," he added, "the fourth quartet it seemed like we did that a little bit better."
Utah ended up getting huge offensive outings from its big three to finish its pre-Christmas trip with a 3-1 record,
In his first visit to Minnesota since being traded to Utah this past offseason, Jefferson hauled in nine rebounds and swatted seven shots in addition to scoring 23 points.
Williams led the Jazz with 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, while Millsap had a strong double-double of 23 points and 11 boards.
But the play of Earl Watson (four points, two assists) and Hayward (five points, three assists, three rebounds) in that fourth quarter really gave Utah a big boost.
Hayward played so well that Sloan kept him on the court the entire fourth quarter.
"It was fun," the 20-year-old top-10 pick said. "I just tried to get out there and bring some energy."
Kevin Love topped Minnesota with 25 points and 19 rebounds — a monster night that was complemented nicely by Michael Beasley's 24 points and 10 boards.
Those two duked it out with Millsap and Jefferson all night, including late in the game before the Jazz scored the final seven points.
But Jefferson's second-half, 9-for-12 shooting performance topped them all. He said a good friend — from Utah — told him to "relax." He did, and it showed as he helped his new team stave off an upset from his pesky old teammates.
"It was just good to win the game, not necessarily just beat my old team," Jefferson said. "Games like this we have to win."20 comments on this story
Jefferson, who averaged more than 20 points and 10 boards in three seasons in Minnesota, was given a rousing reception in introductions by appreciative Minnesota fans.
"It was just good to come back and get a great welcome from the fans," Jefferson said. "The fans still supported me and that made me feel good. We had three long years in Minnesota. We didn't win a lot of games, but I think the fans know I gave it everything I got the three years I was here."
All-time NBA winningest coaches
1. Don Nelson 1,335
2. Lenny Wilkens 1,332
3. Jerry Sloan 1,211
4. Pat Riley 1,210
5. Phil Jackson 1,119