SALT LAKE CITY — When the Utah Jazz went ahead by 23 points in the second half and a run-away victory seemed inevitable, it’s plausible that Hot Rod Hundley was warning anybody who’d listen in the Big Broadcast Booth in the Sky that the refrigerator door had not been closed yet.
The Jazz were, after all, playing against the pesky Timberwolves, as the Hall of Fame broadcaster used to call them (and hopefully still does).
Despite Minnesota being pestiferous, pestilent, peeving and, of course, full of peskiness in the fourth quarter, the Jazz escaped this Northwest Division showdown with a 106-102 win at Vivint Arena.
“We have to be better,” Jazz center Rudy Gobert said. “We can’t start the fourth quarter thinking the game is over.”
While that does seems like a smart attitude — and certainly the wisest thing to say with your coach still in the building — nobody could blame the Jazz for believing this game was cooling down in the ice box after three quarters.
• The Jazz had just outscored Minnesota 38-24 in the third quarter to take a 90-69 lead.
• The Timberwolves had played seven quarters of basketball in 24 hours, having beaten the Lakers in Los Angeles on Thursday night.
• Perhaps most important, Kyle Korver had already drained three 3-pointers, which has proven to be the most reliable stat available to predict a Jazz win. Before Friday, the team had an 11-0 record when Korver hit at least three 3s since trading for him in November.
The Timberwolves somehow made this one way more interesting than it should have been in the fourth quarter — first by scoring the first 13 points and then by continuing to put pressure on the Jazz and chip away at the score even after Utah finally started finding the bottom of the net after a few scoreless minutes.
All-Star hopeful Karl-Anthony Towns was a monster in the final period, scoring 13 of his game-high 33 points. Andrew Wiggins, Jerryd Bayless and Anthony Tolliver also played pivotal roles in that final push for the T-Wolves.
Tolliver hit a 28-foot 3 with 1:05 remaining, and then Minnesota had a couple of chances to score the go-ahead bucket on its next possession. But Joe Ingles finally corralled in a defensive rebound, and hit two free throws, and then the Jazz defense forced Tolliver into a desperation airball 3-point attempt to seal an eighth win in nine games.
“We played in spurts,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “In the spurts we didn’t play well, we lost focus and weren’t smart. We didn’t play like a smart team and we were fortunate to win the game.”
Mitchell finished with his first career double-double of 24 points and a career-high 11 assists — along with seven rebounds — to lead Utah to a 28-22 record.
Gobert, who was questionable before tipoff with hamstring soreness, made the Jazz very thankful he played through his injury by contributing 18 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks. He also had a key steal in the final moments.
“They came back, so we had to lock in and make the stops to win the game,” Gobert said. “And we did.”
Korver ended up drilling 4-of-9 3-pointers and scored 16 points off the bench, while Derrick Favors chipped in 13 points and Ingles added 12 points.
“For a minute there we probably let the foot off the gas,” Korver said. “Our intensity wasn’t quite what it had been in the third quarter. I thought we just didn’t play very smart. We took a lot of quick shots … a lot of things to learn.”
This one was so fun — it included a player (Taj Gibson) freaking out at a ref and getting kicked out, a 16-point third quarter for Mitchell, an All-Star-level performance by KAT and some late, clutch defensive plays by The Stifle Tower — that the two teams will do it again Sunday in Minnesota.
Gibson repeated that the comeback showed “a lot of heart” for a Minnesota team that was missing Derrick Rose and Jeff Teague, among others. KAT finished with 33 points and 10 rebounds, and Wiggins totaled 21 points and 11 boards for the 24-25 T-Wolves.
“We were down almost half our roster,” he said. “We had a lot of heart, a lot of energy and togetherness.”Comment on this story
Gibson showed a lot of frustration after a call didn’t go his way midway through the third quarter. At one point, he yelled and lunged at referee James Williams before being restrained. He then flipped the bird at the official as he was being escorted from the arena after being ejected.
"It's a part of the emotion,” a cooled-down Gibson said in the locker room. “Like I said, I'm human. But I got a lot of respect for James. Like I said, he's been reffing my games 10-plus years in the NBA. It's up to me just to go talk to him and apologize."