Utah Jazz basketball: Jazz overcome slow start to top T-Wolves, 97-93
MINNEAPOLIS — Utah is getting the hang of this comeback thing.
The Jazz beat Minnesota 97-93, winning despite a 10-point deficit for the 13th time this season. No NBA team has won more games in that fashion.
Fighting back took on new meaning Wednesday at the Target Center in Minneapolis. One night after an emotional 109-94 victory against Oklahoma City, the Jazz (30-24) were forced to combat complacency against the struggling Timberwolves (19-31).
"This is the type of team that's scary because yeah, they have been struggling, but they are still a talented team," Jazz forward Al Jefferson said. "We knew it wouldn't be a walk in the park. We had to do what we do best."
Grit and inside scoring were Utah's best assets. Paul Millsap (21 points) and Jefferson (20) paced the offense. Big Al also pulled down 11 rebounds for his 25th double-double, tied for eighth-most in the NBA. Randy Foye added 10 points, including four critical free throws in the game's final 16 seconds.
Nothing fell early on. Both teams struggled in the first quarter, which Minnesota won by a 17-10 margin.
"One thing we didn't fall prey to is feeling sorry for ourselves," Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We were kind of running in mud at the beginning of the ball game."
Gaining traction, Utah scored more points in the second quarter (32) than the teams could muster overall in the first quarter.
Trailing 20-10 early in the second quarter, the Jazz reeled off the next 14 points and built a 42-40 halftime lead.
Poised play made the difference. Foye nearly stripped Ricky Rubio of the ball at midcourt but the Timberwolves point guard recovered, finding J.J. Barea for a 3-pointer. Unfazed, Foye answered with a 3-pointer on the ensuing Jazz possession.
The Jazz bench also made a difference. DeMarre Carroll and Millsap each drew fouls going strong to the rim and converted their three-point play attempts. Enes Kanter contributed two baskets in the paint and Millsap completed the spurt by drawing a foul, sinking both free throws and forcing Minnesota to call timeout.
Carroll and Kanter finished with a combined 21 points as the Utah bench outscored Minnesota's reserves by a 43-12 margin.
"We turned it over a few times in the second quarter and it changed the whole tempo of the game in their favor when they had their a lot of their bench people on the floor," Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman said.
As they did against Oklahoma City, Utah seized control of Wednesday's game from the late third to the middle fourth quarter. Baskets from Earl Watson and Jefferson gave Utah a 68-63 lead after three quarters. Jefferson made the most memorable play, stealing the ball from Rubio and chugging three-quarters of the floor for a layup.
"He's cat-quick," Corbin joked.
The Jazz smiled easier as they padded their lead by as much as 15 points in the fourth quarter. But Minnesota was not finished.
"Once again we came back with five minutes to go and played our tails off," Adelman said.
Threatening to one-up Utah's comeback abilities, Minnesota whittled a 15-point Jazz lead to a two-point advantage. Millsap was called for a foul on a three-point attempt by Minnesota's Derrick Williams. He hit all three free throws and cut Utah's lead to 93-91 with 19.3 seconds to play.
But the Jazz stayed ahead thanks in large part to Foye's free throws.
"That's why I put him back in the game," Corbin said. "We tried to get the ball to the guy we feel comfortable in making shots."
Said Foye: "I was stiff but I got in and knocked down the free throws like I always do at the end of the game."
The end result — an important victory for a team starved for them on the road. Resilient Utah moved to 10-18 away from home and 4-13 against Western Conference opponents.
"We don't give up, man," Jefferson said. "We know it's a long game. Things might not go your way to start but we keep fighting and it works out for us."
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