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Utah Jazz instant analysis: Big Al wills team to win

Published: Monday, Aug. 31 2015 4:16 p.m. MDT

Al Jefferson of the Utah Jazz throws balls to the crowd after helping defeat Minnesota during NBA basketball in Salt Lake City Friday, April 12, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Al Jefferson of the Utah Jazz throws balls to the crowd after helping defeat Minnesota during NBA basketball in Salt Lake City Friday, April 12, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

In what could be the biggest game of the season thus far, the Utah Jazz got one of the best performances of their center’s life. Al Jefferson simply would not let the Jazz lose as his stellar night propelled the Jazz to a huge 107-100 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

It was a close game throughout, and for a good part of the second half, the Jazz found themselves staring at a deficit in a game where a loss could spell playoff doom. Embroiled in an up-and-down fourth quarter, the Jazz managed to make crucial plays down the stretch to snatch a hard-fought must-win.

Give the man the game ball: The Jazz effort began and ended with Jefferson. In probably the gutsiest outing of his career, Jefferson put the team on his back and willed them all evening.

Al Jefferson of the Utah Jazz celebrates hitting a shot in the last minute of the game against Minnesota during NBA basketball in Salt Lake City Friday, April 12, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Al Jefferson of the Utah Jazz celebrates hitting a shot in the last minute of the game against Minnesota during NBA basketball in Salt Lake City Friday, April 12, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

Jefferson simply was the best player on the court the entire game. He helped Utah get an early start and then when things started to appear dicey for the Jazz, his play in the third quarter not only got them back in the game, but garnered the lead. Things again became murky in the fourth quarter, but Jefferson countered brilliantly. No basket was bigger than his push shot off a broken play with 39 seconds left that ultimately sealed the win in Utah’s favor.

In a stellar offensive night, Jefferson could not be stopped as his full interior repertoire was on display and his jumper was dead-on. The center connected on 19 of 27 shots, which netted him 40 points. Tack on 13 big rebounds, a team-high six assists, and a much-deserved standing ovation from the appreciative EnergySolutions Arena crowd. The night simply belonged to Al Jefferson.

This and that:

Gordon Hayward of the Utah Jazz celebrates after banking in a shot at the end of the first quarter during NBA basketball in Salt Lake City Friday, April 12, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Gordon Hayward of the Utah Jazz celebrates after banking in a shot at the end of the first quarter during NBA basketball in Salt Lake City Friday, April 12, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

— The two squads were particularly physical with each other, which created playoff-like intensity. This was exemplified in a play were Minnesota guard J.J. Barea seemingly goaded Derrick Favors into a scuffle, resulting in a flagrant foul on the big man. This gave the Timberwolves a spark, igniting them on an 8-0 run.

— Former Utah Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko played early on but spent much of the fourth quarter observing from the bench. He had eight points, three assists and three rebounds in 24 minutes.

— While he did not register an assist, it should not be overlooked that second-year guard Alec Burks played point guard for much of the final quarter.

— Utah was a juggernaut offensively, shooting 58.3 percent from the floor, including 8 of 13 (61.5 percent) from beyond the three-point arc. When the Jazz got the free-throw line, they capitalized by going 88.2 percent.

Paul Millsap of the Utah Jazz is fouled by Andrei Kirilenko of the Minnesota Timberwolves during NBA basketball in Salt Lake City Friday, April 12, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Paul Millsap of the Utah Jazz is fouled by Andrei Kirilenko of the Minnesota Timberwolves during NBA basketball in Salt Lake City Friday, April 12, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

— Minnesota was not only devoid of star Kevin Love, but the sturdy and steady Nikola Pevocic.

David Smith provides instant analysis for Deseret News' Utah Jazz coverage. He works for LDS Philanthropies and also blogs for the Utah Jazz 360 website. He can be reached at mechakucha1@gmail.com or on Twitter at davidjsmith1232.

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