The Utah Jazz were locked in a tough battle on the road late in Saturday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, when Gordon Hayward took over to move his squad one step closer to the postseason.
Despite fighting fatigue in his fifth game back from injury, Gordon rallied to tally 16 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, a vital effort that helped the Jazz down the Wolves 93-84. With the victory, Utah jumped ahead of the Houston Rockets into the seventh spot in the Western Conference with nine games left to play in the regular season.
In addition to his 18 points, G-Time added five rebounds, five assists and a couple blocks in the victorious effort. After the game No. 20 admitted he wasn’t feeling 100 percent, but his gutsy fourth quarter display helped the Jazz end their five-game road trip on a positive note.
“For sure I was tired and tried to drink a bunch of fluids and get kick-started so I could find some type of energy,” Gordon said. “It’s hard to find it. I’m just glad we got the win.”
The Jazz were holding on to a slim 65-63 lead early in the fourth quarter when H20 went into assassin mode. Over the next 70 seconds, G-Time scored nine consecutive points to push the Jazz out to a 74-63 edge. From that point, the Timberwolves never came within eight for the duration of the contest.
“I got some easy shots there in the fourth quarter and got going in transition and attacked the basket a little bit more,” Gordon recalled after the game. “I got some easier looks and my teammates found me in good position.”
The two Western Conference squads played pretty evenly through the first three quarters, as neither team could gain much offensive traction until Gordon’s scoring spree in the final frame.
Utah led early and despite Gordon not registering a field goal in the first quarter, the Jazz used stellar defensive play to go into the second up 18-10. G-Time was quiet again in the second quarter and had to rely more on his passing to help his team hold onto their advantage. Gordon rattled off three consecutive assists to help the Jazz pull ahead by 10. He first connected with Raul Neto, who knocked down a triple. Then on the next two possessions, he found Trey Lyles open for back-to-back trifectas to make it 31-21.
However, the T-Wolves answered that Utah mini-run with a 13-1 run of their own to close the half, which cut the Jazz lead to just one entering the break. G-Time managed to knock down his first field goal of the game early in the third, a pullup jumper to put the Jazz up 41-37. It went back and forth the rest of the quarter and Utah found themselves again up by one going into the fourth.
Just a few short minutes into that frame, Gordon took control of the game. His outstanding fourth quarter began less than a minute into the final frame, when he converted on driving layup to make it a 62-59 score. A couple possessions later after Minnesota cut the lead to two, G-Time drove in for another layup. This time he not only scored, but also drew contact and went to the line, where he capped off the three-point play to put the Jazz in front by five points.
“He got real aggressive,” Utah guard Rodney Hood said of Hayward. “He got out in transition and got some easy ones. He got to the free throw line. He’s hard to guard once he gets going. We made an emphasis to get him the ball and let him go to work. And we got stops while he was taking the game over.”
It was the same story just moments later, after the teams traded fruitless possession. Gordon didn’t miss a second chance to add to his team’s lead. He again to the ball to the bucket and scored, and again drew contact to get to the line. His second straight three-point play put the Jazz up 71-63. Then, after Utah got another stop on defense, the Jazz got out in transition, and G-Time lined up and buried a trey from downtown to continue his hot streak and cap off a 9-0 Jazz run and make it an 11-point game.
A few minutes later No. 20 passed to a cutting Derrick Favors, who finished the play with a slam to put the Jazz up by 12. Utah continued to pour it on from there and when Gordon buried his second trey of the quarter with about two-and-a-half minutes remaining, it gave Utah an 89-73 advantage. Minnesota tallied six of the next eight points, but when G-Time banked home a jumper exactly a minute left, it put the Jazz up by 14 and essentially sealed the game.
“Gordon found his rhythm and gave us some big buckets,” Quin Snyder said. “He got a couple of things going to the basket and that got him going.”
Over the course of his 16-point fourth frame, No. 20 went 6-of-9 from the floor, buried both of his tries from three and also went a perfect 2-for-2 from the free throw line converting a pair of three-point plays. He added a pair of rebounds and an assist while playing all 12 minutes of the final period.
G-Time and the Jazz (36-37) return home from their five-game road trip late Saturday and after an off day on Sunday they return to action on Monday night to take on the Los Angeles Lakers (15-58).
Two of Utah’s final nine games this season are against the Lakers, who they have already bested in two prior meetings. On Jan. 10 the Jazz went into LA and downed the Lakers 86-74 behind 25 points from Gordon. Later that week, they routed LA in Utah, 109-82.
With two more meetings with Los Angeles in the short time left in this season, the Jazz will be aiming to take advantage of the lowly Lakers, who sit last in the West, as they try to move up the standings. Sitting in seventh now, a half game in front of Houston, Utah still has a chance to move up as high as sixth in the West. They currently sit 1.5 games behind Portland for the sixth spot.
Their recent road trip was a challenge for Jazz, but their performance helped them begin to make their move and push toward the playoffs. Now, Gordon says, they must maintain focus and finish strong.
“It was a long five games and 3-2 is definitely not bad against some of the competition we’ve played,” Gordon said. “Now we’ve got a big game on Monday.”
Tonight’s game will tip off at 7 p.m. MST from Vivint Smart Home Arena and will be aired on ROOT.
WESTERN CONFERENCE STANDINGS – 3/28
- y – Golden State Warriors (66-7)
- y – San Antonio Spurs (61-12) 5 GB
- y – Oklahoma City Thunder (51-22) 15 GB
- x – Los Angeles Clippers (45-27) 20.5 GB
- Memphis Grizzlies (41-32) 25 GB
- Portland Trail Blazers (38-36) 28.5 GB
- Utah Jazz (36-37) 30 GB
- Houston Rockets (36-38) 30.5 GB
y – Clinched division
x – Clinched playoff berth
- Game Book: Jazz at Timberwolves (NBA, Mar. 26, 2016)
- Hayward, Jazz close out Wovles in fourth quarter (AP, Mar. 26, 2016)
- Utah Jazz finish road trip with win over Timberwolves (Salt Lake Tribune, Mar. 26, 2016)
- Wolves come out flat and stay that way, fall to Utah (Star Tribune, Mar. 26, 2016)
- Hayward comes alive in fourth quarter to lead Jazz past Wolves (Deseret News, Mar. 26, 2016)
- Gordon Hayward’s big fourth caps 3-2 road trip (SLC Dunk, Mar. 26, 2016)