The Jazz came into Friday night’s game needing a win to remain in control of their own destiny for seeding in the Western Conference Playoff race. With only a half game lead over the Clippers and the tiebreaker out of their hands, Utah held serve at home against the Minnesota Timberwolves, 120-113.
Friday’s game wasn’t your typical Jazz win. If you’ve been watching Jazz games this season you probably checked the score at the end of the third quarter and thought it was the final. The Jazz entered the fourth quarter leading 95-88. The Jazz tightened up their defense in the third to overcome a five-point halftime deficit, but Minnesota’s big three of Karl-Anthony Towns, Ricky Rubio and Andrew Wiggins stayed hot.
Early on it looked like the Jazz might be heading for a crucial home loss. Minnesota kept hitting shots in the second half to stay close as well. However, Gordon Hayward took over to lead his team in an explosive offensive win.
Hayward must have felt grateful for the fans who pitched in money to put up a billboard urging him to stay in Utah. He put on a show for the Jazz faithful. Coming into the final moments of the game Hayward was just below his career-high. Inexplicably, with one second left, the Timberwolves put him at the line with no shot of a comeback. Hayward hit both free throws to bring his total to 39.
Derrick Favors was also big in Utah’s win. After missing 14 straight games with knee injuries, Favors came back strong. He scored 13 points and grabbed five rebounds in just under 17 minutes on the court.
Joe Johnson, who is a proponent of yoga, calmly scored 22 points for the Jazz off the bench. He has continually been impactful in big moments for the Jazz this season.
The team heads to Portland to take on the Blazers Saturday night. This back-to-back is just another critical game in Utah’s tough stretch run to hang onto home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. With their win and Oklahoma City’s surprising loss to Phoenix, the Jazz have clinched their division for the first time since 2008.
With Favors and Hood back in the lineup, George Hill was the only starter missing for the Jazz. Hill appears to be getting closer to making his return as well. If everything goes according to plan the Jazz should be fully healthy for their first playoff game against the Clippers. The only question now is where game one will be played.
Quin Snyder – 1 Technical Foul
Gordon Hayward – 39 points (career-high), 5 assists, 3 rebounds
Rudy Gobert – 16 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks
Joe Johnson – 22 points, 3 rebounds
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