We locked down defensively in the second half. We knew we needed to do that. We talked about it at halftime, and that’s what we did tonight. —Trey Lyles
SALT LAKE CITY — For a while Friday night, it appeared as if the Utah Jazz were still in shell-shock mode from Wednesday night’s tough loss to the Golden State Warriors.
They squandered an early lead, watched the T-Wolves go on a run to take a six-point lead in the second quarter while hitting 7 of 12 first-half 3-pointers, and appeared to be sluggish in their shoes.
If not for Trey Lyles’ big first half — when he poured in 17 of his 18 points — the Jazz would’ve been in real big trouble.
Despite playing without Derrick Favors, the Jazz snapped out of their funk late in the second half to pick up a 98-85 victory in what amounted to a must-win game.
“We locked down defensively in the second half,” Lyles said. “We knew we needed to do that. We talked about it at halftime, and that’s what we did tonight.”
The Jazz’s second-half surge helped them keep up with the Mavericks, who also improved to 38-38 with a surprising win at Detroit earlier in the night.
Utah and Dallas, currently in the seventh and eighth spots, are one full game ahead of idle Houston (37-39) with six games remaining in the season.
In such a tight race, that’s why wins like Friday’s are so important for the Jazz. Getting upset at this point could prevent them from reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
“We’re playing with urgency, not just because of the playoff race but because we just want to win,” Jazz shooting guard Rodney Hood said. “We want to play well. If we play well and play hard, we can live with the results.”
Hood gave the Jazz some nice momentum going into the locker room after hitting a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give the Jazz the lead for good at 51-49.
Utah then steadily pulled away from Minnesota in the second half, eventually building a 15-point lead against the 25-51 T-Wolves.
Defense, of course, turned out to be the difference.
The Jazz hounded Minnesota into shooting 41.7 percent overall and 18.2 percent (2-11) from 3-point range in the final two quarters. The T-Wolves only scored 36 points after the break.
“Even though they were hitting shots, we like that because they’re a team that gets in the paint,” Hood said. “When they get in the paint, it’s hard to stop those guys. When they were hitting outside shots, we stuck with the game plan. We kept them out of the paint. Eventually those shot stop falling. We were able to rebound and convert on the other end.”
It also helped the Jazz that all five starters scored in double figures, led by Hayward’s 22-point effort. He added five rebounds and three assists.
Lyles helped fill the void left by Favors’ absence, and his nice night included two treys and five rebounds. Hood added 17 points, Shelvin Mack contributed 16 points, five rebounds and four assists, and Rudy Gobert amassed a double-double of 10 points and 14 boards.
That balanced effort nullified big nights by Minnesota’s young stars Andrew Wiggins (24 points) and Karl-Anthony Towns (17 points, 11 rebounds).
“Obviously when you’re desperate for that position in the playoffs, you play a little harder,” Towns said. “We came out and tried to do the best we could game-plan-wise. We played well. We passed the ball around well tonight, but they were hitting shots.”
And a lot of them. Utah shot 52.8 percent from the field, making up for another subpar free-throw shooting performance (14-23).
It all added up to the Jazz’s second win over the T-Wolves in a week and the team’s ninth victory in 12 games.
“I thought we competed. I thought we made some mistakes, but they made shots,” T-Wolves interim coach Sam Mitchell said. “Their team is long. You aren’t going to get a lot of second shots. They are long. They are big. They are physical.”
The Jazz next travel to Phoenix for a Sunday rematch against a Suns team they demolished 103-69 two weeks ago. That game is huge for Utah, considering the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Clippers visit Vivint Arena next week.