I feel fortunate we won the game. We played really good defense when we needed to, and that’s been our calling card. —Jazz coach Quin Snyder
MINNEAPOLIS — The whole gang was finally all together Saturday night at the Target Center, where the Utah Jazz took on the Minnesota Timberwolves, the team with the worst record in the Western Conference. Should have been a piece of cake for the fully healthy Jazz, right?
Despite having George Hill joining Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert and Rodney Hood in the starting lineup with Alec Burks, Joe Ingles, Trey Lyles et al, the Jazz had to scrap and fight before coming away with a 94-92 victory thanks to an 11-0 run to end the game.
The victory evened Utah’s record at 2-2 on the current five-game road trip and improved the season mark to 23-15, with the fifth and final game of the trip coming up Sunday night (6 p.m. MST) at Memphis.
The Jazz trailed by 13 late in the third quarter and by nine with just 3:35 left in the game. However, they scored 11 straight points to finish the game, holding the T-Wolves, who fell to 11-26, scoreless on 0 for 8 from the field with two turnovers, while making four of their final five shots.
“I feel fortunate we won the game,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder. “We played really good defense when we needed to, and that’s been our calling card. The other night we didn’t get the stops late and tonight we got the stops. You can definitely build on that.”
Saturday’s game marked the third return of the season for the oft-injured George Hill, who has missed 23 games this year, including the last three after getting smacked in the face in a New Year’s Eve game against Phoenix.
Hill had been under NBA concussion protocol all week and was finally cleared to play Saturday afternoon. He finished with another solid effort with 19 points, seven assists and five rebounds, but it was his play in the fourth quarter that propelled the Jazz to their unlikely victory.
Before the game, Snyder said he was only going to play Hill in four- or five-minute stretches, but Hill ended up playing the entire fourth quarter. Snyder said Hill wouldn’t let him take him out.
“He understands who I am as a person — he understands that if he would have pulled me out at the end, I would have been upset,” Hill said. “I always want to be in there. Yeah, you may have a minutes restriction or whatever, but I want to be in there with the guys trying to win.”
Through the first two-and-a-half quarters, the two teams were almost dead-even with 11 lead changes and 10 ties. Then the T-Wolves, got hot, opening up a 13-point lead and taking an 80-69 lead into the final quarter.
The lead was still nine with 3:35 left when the Jazz came alive with Hill the steady force and Favors providing some unexpected outside shooting. Favors made three straight baskets, including a 20-footer from out front and a 3-pointer from the left corner, just the third of his seven-year NBA career, to cut the lead to 92-90 with 1:29 left.
Then with 52 seconds left, Hayward tied the game with a pair of free throws and after a miss by Gorgui Dieng, the Jazz took the lead for good when Gobert tipped in a miss by Favors in the lane. Then Minnesota missed two shots, a hook shot by Karl-Anthony Towns and a 20-foot jumper by Zach LaVine with 1.9 seconds left.
While Hill led the scoring with 19, Hayward added 16, Favors had 15 and Gobert scored 12, while grabbing 13 rebounds for his 25th double-double of the season. Lyles chipped in 13 points off the bench.
For Minnesota, LaVine led the way with 24 points, Towns scored 18, Andrew Wiggins 16, Ricky Rubio 12 and Dieng 11.
"We have to understand how different the fourth quarter is and you have to be disciplined,” said Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau. “I thought we played hard, but didn’t play smart in the fourth quarter.”