We picked it up in the second half and we kept them out of transition. We did not do as good of a job on the boards, but we got back in transition and made them play in the half court. —Rodney Hood
SALT LAKE CITY — This could be a turning point, perhaps, for the Utah Jazz.
If they are going to indeed make good on all the terrific promise this team once showed before being bitten badly this season by the injury bug, then their current six-game homestand would be an ideal time to do it.
And Friday night, in the third game of that pivotal six-game stretch, they notched their second straight double-digit victory by turning back a talented but under-achieving Minnesota Timberwolves team, 103-90, at Vivint Arena.
Second-year shooting guard Rodney Hood had a team-high 24 points and four assists for Utah, which outscored Minnesota 26-14 in a pivotal third period, while a reconditioned Derrick Favors — who missed 19 games in December and January with a balky back problem — returned to the starting lineup and had 20 points with nine rebounds.
"We picked it up in the second half and we kept them out of transition," Hood said after the Jazz pulled away from a narrow 56-55 halftime edge. "We did not do as good of a job on the boards, but we got back in transition and made them play in the half court."
Utah's defense made its presence felt after halftime. The Jazz, who gave up 55 first-half points, allowed only 14 in the third quarter and just 35 total in the second half, paving the way for the victory.
"We made them play in the half court. Regardless of what team in the NBA that we play, if we play in the half court consistently the whole game, we are tough to score against. And I think that was the key."
Center Rudy Gobert, another Utah starter who missed a major chunk of the season with a knee injury, added 14 points, 12 rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks to help the Jazz improve to 21-25.
"We came back in the locker room at halftime and we said that we're making too many mistakes," said Gobert, "especially giving them offensive rebounds and fast-break points. We came back and played tougher.
"Favors is getting used to playing and he did a good job tonight. He is great; everybody is coming back, you know. A.B. (Alec Burks) is going to come back pretty soon, not very soon but pretty soon, and it is great."
Leading scoring Gordon Hayward managed 12 points and five rebounds on a relatively quiet night. Trey Burke banged in four 3-pointers for 12 points off the bench, Trevor Booker contributed 11 points, eight rebounds and two blocks and Raul Neto netted nine points to go along with six assists.
Utah coach Quin Snyder said Favors' strong return to the lineup was a huge boost to his team's hopes.
"It's just big having that other guy on the boards, and Book (Booker) did as well," he said. "When you have somebody that's guarding a post player, and a good post player like they have, that weak-side rebounding is essential. And that's some of what we've been missing from that position. And he was able to do that.
"As the game went on, I thought Rudy did a nice job, too, handling the ball and finishing some things and making some good passes. I was happy with how those guys interacted, and obviously Book gave us a huge lift off the bench."
Snyder certainly appreciates the way Hood has been stepping up and making an increasingly bigger presence and positive impact as the season goes on.
"I've been pushing our team pretty hard, mentally as much as physically," he said. "And I think we showed ... I was a little worried about our fatigue at the beginning of the game. I still feel like we've got to keep grinding because we've got guys back and we're trying to figure out who we are.
"And Rodney's just asserting himself through those opportunities. He's making good decisions about when to pass and when to shoot as well, so it's good to see him playing like that.
"Gordon was dragging a little bit tonight, and I think he was tired and he had to push through," Snyder said, "so Rodney gave us even more of a boost, making plays on the perimeter."
For Minnesota (14-34), rookie big man Karl-Anthony Towns continued his strong play with a game-high 32 points, hitting 13 of 17 shots from the field, to go along with 12 rebounds, while Gorgui Dieng added 20 points and a game-high 15 boards. Zach Lavine chipped in with 19 points off the bench for the T-Wolves on 9 of 12 shooting.
"They can play," said Hood. "They have a lot of good players, a lot of good athletes, and they know how to play. They have been in a lot of games kind of like us, going down to the wire. We just happened to pull this one out."
After trailing by two, 29-27, at the end of the first quarter, Utah went on a 15-6 run midway through the second quarter to grab an eight-point lead, 49-41, at the 4:19 mark of the second period.
But Minnesota didn't fold, and the T-Wolves outscored the Jazz 8-2 over the last 1:20 of the second quarter. Ricky Rubio's long shot at the halftime buzzer brought the 'Wolves within a point, 56-55, at halftime.
The two teams played on even terms until the final five minutes of the third period, with the Jazz closing the quarter on a 14-0 run, fueled by Favors, Burke and Booker, to turn a 69-68 deficit into an 82-69 lead entering the final frame.
Utah missed six of its first seven shots of the fourth quarter, but the Timberwolves couldn't capitalize. The Jazz built their lead to as many as 16 points, 94-78, on a 3 by Hayward with 3:54 to go, and only a late one-man run by Towns, who scored eight points in a span of a minute and 48 seconds, prevented Utah from turning it into a blowout.
"I think we played well tonight in the second half," said Snyder, whose team hosts Chicago on Monday in quest once again for its first three-game winning streak of the season. "If we play well like that and I think we'll continue to get better, and hopefully it can be that first three-game streak.
"If it's not, it's not, but hopefully we'll have one in February and March, maybe a couple of 'em. I just want to stay focused on taking care of the things we can control."
But, when it's all said and done, a three-, four- or five-game winning streak would certainly help make this a potential difference-making turning point in the Jazz's season.