Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz top Minnesota Timberwolves to take Northwest Division title

Utah Jazz
Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward (20) makes a pass under the basket. File photo by Mark Goldman/UPI |

SALT LAKE CITY — Dominating games through stifling defense is second nature to Utah. Now the Jazz are finding ways to also take over on offense.

Utah used its full arsenal of offensive weapons with great success in a 120-113 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night. It helped the Jazz clinch the Northwest Division title — the first division championship for Utah since 2007-08.

From the paint to the perimeter, the Jazz repeatedly torched the Timberwolves. Final numbers proved staggering in demonstrating the efficiency of those attacks.

Utah went 45 of 75 from the field, including 14 of 25 from the perimeter, and scored 52 points in the paint. The Jazz totaled 29 assists on their 45 baskets and needed every bit of it to counter 39-of-79 shooting from the Timberwolves.

“We had some fight tonight,” forward Gordon Hayward said. “They were tough. Especially early, we couldn’t stop them. We couldn’t defend them. Down the stretch, we got stops when we needed to. We got the win, so it was a good win.”

Hayward scored a career-high 39 points on 14-of-22 shooting from the field and came up with several critical fourth-quarter baskets.

Minnesota rallied within a point four times late in the fourth quarter, the final time on a dunk from Towns that cut Utah’s lead to 114-113 with 1:23 remaining.

Hayward answered with a jumper and added a free throw on the ensuing possession to boost the lead to 117-113. It kept the Timberwolves from overtaking the Jazz in the final minute.

Joe Johnson added 22 points off the bench. Rudy Gobert chipped in 16 and Derrick Favors added 13 points for the Jazz.

Utah (49-30) won its eighth straight home game and moved a full game ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference standings.

Karl-Anthony Towns totaled 32 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Timberwolves. Ricky Rubio added 26 points and Andrew Wiggins chipped in 25.

Minnesota (31-48) lost its third straight game after playing for the fourth time in five nights.

Enduring such a rigorous schedule down the stretch has offered valuable lessons to the Timberwolves.

“We’re playing these games as if we’re playing for our lives,” Towns said. “We’re doing a great job of fighting. It’s about competing and about getting better.

“We’ve got a lot of things to work on and these games are great ways — especially with the opponents we’re facing — to work on a lot of aspects of our game.”

Neither team could gain ground in a first quarter that featured six ties and 14 lead changes.

Minnesota charged ahead in the second quarter. Towns keyed the surge by scoring the first nine points of the quarter for the Timberwolves. Shabazz Muhammad then scored two baskets off steals to highlight an 11-4 spurt that give Minnesota a 49-38 lead.

Hayward drove for a dunk to stop the run and Utah whittled away the deficit behind 3-pointers from Dante Exum and Johnson. The Jazz tied it at 51 when Joe Ingles turned a steal into a layup on the other end.

Utah proved unable to take the lead in the second quarter. Rubio drained two free throws and Brandon Rush followed with a 3-pointer to put the Timberwolves back up 56-52 with 1:59 left before halftime.

Minnesota scored on four straight possessions, with Towns contributing three baskets, to build a 71-63 lead early in the third quarter.

The Jazz rallied by torching the Timberwolves on the perimeter. Hayward and Johnson hit back-to-back 3-pointers out of a timeout to cut the deficit to a basket.

Utah took a 84-79 lead later in the quarter on a 3-pointer from Hood and a fadeaway jumper from Hayward. The Jazz boosted their lead to 95-88 entering the fourth quarter after Johnson scored three straight baskets in the final minute of the quarter.

“I was pleased with the way we answered on the other end,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “We were a little sloppy at times with the ball, but guys were looking for each other and between Joe and Gordon, we were very good offensively.”

Utah took its largest lead at 108-100 on a putback dunk from Favors midway through the fourth quarter.

Watching how the Jazz are closing out this season gives Minnesota some ideas on how to build for next season.

“We’re playing playoff teams,” Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “For us, it’s like our playoffs. It gives us something to measure ourselves against and something that can help us prepare for the summer and get ready for next season.

“We want to use whatever we can to the best of our ability to learn and improve and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

NOTES: Jazz G George Hill and G Raul Neto each missed their fifth straight game because of a right groin strain. F Derrick Favors returned to the lineup after a 14-game absence resulting from a left knee contusion. … Minnesota went 28 of 28 from the free-throw line. … Utah G/F Joe Johnson needs seven points to become the 42nd NBA player to score 20,000. … Timberwolves C Karl-Anthony Towns needs 33 points and 47 rebounds in his final three games of the season to become the youngest NBA player with 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in a season. … The Jazz were 8 of 11 from the perimeter in the third quarter en route to totaling a season-high 40 points in the quarter. … Utah G Joe Ingles had a career-high eight assists.


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