Hayward's career-high 39 points help Jazz fend off young T-Wolves

Hayward's career-high 39 points help Jazz fend off young T-Wolves

SALT LAKE CITY — Gordon Hayward picked a terrific time to turn in the best scoring night of his seven-year NBA career.

The 6-foot-8 forward scored a career-best 39 points and, as it turned out, the Utah Jazz needed every one of ’em.

Joe Johnson again showed his veteran savvy with 22 points off the bench, three more Jazzmen added double-digit scoring and Utah turned back a young, talented Minnesota Timberwolves team for a tense 120-113 victory Friday night at Vivint Arena.

For Hayward, the Jazz’s eighth straight home win — which clinched Utah’s first Northwest Division title since 2008 — was much more important than his scoring milestone.

“I honestly wasn’t thinking about it,” Hayward said of his big scoring night, which included seven of Utah’s last eight points after Minnesota pulled within 112-111 in the closing minutes. “Happy that we got the win. It was a great win for us.

“We had some fight tonight; they were tough. Especially early, we couldn’t stop them. We couldn’t defend them,” he said of a T-Wolves team that piled up 60 first-half points on Utah’s top-ranked defense. “Down the stretch, we got stops when we needed to.”

With the hard-earned victory, the Jazz (49-30) — with three games remaining in the regular season — maintained their slim one-game lead over the Los Angeles Clippers for the No. 4 playoff seed and home-court advantage in the first round of this year’s NBA playoffs.

Third-year Jazz head coach Quin Snyder was asked what he was looking for as his team prepares to make its first postseason appearance since 2012.

“I want to be healthy, I want to be playing well, we want to get the fourth seed, we want to (have the) homecourt (advantage), and all those things are interrelated, so they’re gonna take care of themselves,” he said.

“The biggest thing is what I’ve said before — I just want to be playing well, I want to be healthy and playing well. However that evolves; if we’re the sixth seed, frankly, that’s OK with me, too. I’m not gonna lose sleep over it.

“… It’s been seven years since we won a playoff game,” Snyder said, “and we’re going into it to trying to be in the best position to win the playoff. So whatever we have to do to be ready to go, that’s my goal.”

Rudy Gobert added 16 points despite being saddled with foul trouble, while Derrick Favors returned from a 14-game absence with a balky knee and had 13 key points with five rebounds.

“We don’t win tonight without him — no question,” Snyder said. “That is a loss without Derrick Favors. Great to have him back.”

Joe Ingles contributed 11 points, a career-high eight assists, five rebounds and two steals in a strong all-around performance for Utah, which poured in 40 third-quarter points to take the lead after falling behind 60-55 at halftime.

But the Timberwolves wouldn’t go away. After the Jazz forged in front 95-88 entering the final frame, Minnesota pulled within two points three times and stayed within striking distance down the stretch.

Back-to-back dunks by Favors put the Jazz up 108-100, but Wiggins and Towns took turns scoring to bring the visitors back with an 11-4 run that slashed Utah’s lead to 112-111 before Hayward helped the Jazz prevail in the final few minutes.

Hayward was 14 of 22 from the field with 4-of-5 accuracy from 3-point range, while Johnson went 8 for 10 and was also 4 of 5 from beyond the arc.

“He’s just playing hard, he’s being relentless on both ends of the floor, and we needed that tonight,” Johnson said of Hayward. “Man, I just went out there and competed and had fun with it.”

For Minnesota (31-48), second-year big man Karl Anthony-Towns gave Gobert and the Jazz fits with 32 points and 13 rebounds. Ricky Rubio added 26 points and 12 assists, Andrew Wiggins scored 25 more and Shabazz Muhammad had 11 off the bench for the T-Wolves, who were an amazing 28 of 28 from the foul line.

Snyder praised the special performance by Hayward and the superb season he’s had all year long.

“I think he’s being rewarded for the investment — his whole heart is in it, he’s all in,” Snyder said of his first-year All-Star. “You’re not going to play well every night, but down the stretch, this was one of those games where it was hard to get a stop.

“And for him to answer and answer and answer at those crucial times, it was a different type of win for us. There’s been a couple times this year he’s done that, and tonight it really stood out.

“We weren’t able to get stops, so we had to be able to score on the other end,” he said. “I just felt like our team really wanted to win, we just took a little different path to get there.”

Asked why his team struggled so mightily against a Minnesota team which is well under .500 and won’t be in the playoffs, Snyder took a glass-half-full approach.

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“I’d rather focus on how efficient we were on offense, to be honest with you,” he said. “I feel like we know what we need to do defensively. A lot of what happened tonight was Karl Anthony-Towns and Wiggins. There was some possessions where I felt like we did a good job, and they’re hard to guard.

“They’re talented offensive players, and they get going and it’s hard to stop ’em. But I was pleased with the way we answered on the other end. We were a little sloppy at times, but guys were looking for each other and between Joe and Gordon, they were very good offensively.”

The Jazz have a tough turnaround, playing the Trail Blazers at Portland Saturday. Utah beat the Blazers by 19 points earlier this week.

EMAIL: rhollis@desnews.com

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Published at Sat, 08 Apr 2017 05:15:00 +0000