Jazz win, keep pressure on Lakers
SALT LAKE CITY (AP)
The victory kept the pressure on the Los Angeles Lakers in the race for the final Western Conference playoff spot.
Jefferson scored 19 points on 9-of-11 shooting in the third to turn a seven-point deficit into an 82-81 lead entering the fourth.
After Ricky Rubio's back-to-back 3-pointers gave Minnesota a 98-97 lead with 3:52 left, Jefferson followed with an 8-footer. His 14-footer as the shock clock expired gave Utah a 101-98 lead with 39 seconds remaining.
Rubio's driving layup pulled Minnesota within 103-100 with 14 seconds left but Mo Williams sank four free throws to seal it for Utah (42-38).
J.J. Barea scored a season-high 23 points off the bench for Minnesota (29-50).
The Jazz led 97-90 on Jefferson's 8-footer, only to see Minnesota score five points on one possession. After a missed Jazz shot, Derrick Favors was called for a flagrant foul for shoving Barea out of his way and to the ground with 4:49 left. Barea sank both free throws, then Rubio hit a 3-pointer.
Rubio hit another 3 on the next possession to give Minnesota a 98-97 lead with 3:52 remaining.
Jefferson, who set a career high with 19 field goals, was not to be denied and hit the key basket when it counted most despite dealing with the shot clock and a double team.
He added 13 rebounds and a career-high six assists.
The Timberwolves already had endured an injury-plagued season. On Friday, they also were without starting center Nikola Pekovic because of left calf contusion. Greg Steimsma started in his place and opened 1 of 5.
Jefferson took advantage to keep hope alive for Utah, which entered Friday a game behind the Lakers, who faced Golden State in a late game.
The teams will do it all again on Monday in Minnesota, as the Jazz close out the season with road games against the Timberwolves and the Memphis Grizzlies.
This one was in Salt Lake city, where the Timberwolves have lost seven straight.
The Jazz jumped out to an early nine-point lead after an 8-2 run that included Jefferson's dunk, Randy Foye's 3-pointer and a steal by Gordon Hayward that set up Jefferson for a three-point play and a 23-16 lead.
When Hayward's 33-footer banked in at the buzzer to give Utah a 30-22 lead after one, Utah looked well on its way to its 30th home victory.
But backup Barea, the smallest player on the court at 6-foot, came up big for the Timberwolves. He scored 12 straight for Minnesota to open the second quarter, starting with back-to-back 3-pointers and a driving layup that tied it at 32 with 10:03 left in the half.
A 15-6 Utah run that included Paul Millsap's dunk, Jamaal Tinsley's 3-pointer and Jefferson's 15-footer put the Jazz up 51-42. The Timberwolves responded, closing on a 12-2 run, with Barea and Chase Budinger hitting 3-pointers and Andrei Kirilenko dunking on the break to give Minnesota a 54-53 lead at the break.
Kirilenko, who helped guide the Jazz to six playoff appearances in 10 seasons, received a loud round of applause during introductions. He finished 3 of 6 for eight points.
This night belonged to the Jefferson and the Jazz.
NOTES: Kirilenko acknowledged before the game he hopes the Jazz make it to the playoffs this season. ''We know the situation the Jazz (are) in,'' Kirilenko said of battling the Lakers for the final spot. ''It's not that we're going to come and try to help the Jazz. I can cheer for the Jazz but not against the Minnesota Timberwolves. We are going to try to do our best and try to beat Utah. Other than that I will cheer for them to be in the playoffs.'' ... A special ceremony is planned for Wednesday in Minnesota for coach Rick Adelman's 1,000th victory. ... The Jazz had two days rest before Friday's game, while Minnesota was playing its third game in four nights. ''And tomorrow will be our fourth game in (five) nights and the team we play (Phoenix) is there waiting for us,'' Adelman said. '' I don't know, ask the schedule maker. It makes no sense to me. You can see it's going to happen once in a while, but for us it's happening all the time. It's the second time in four, five nights in the last 2 1/2 weeks of the season. But it's what it is. You've got to go out and play. You can't worry about it. If we were in a playoff chase, it would be even more of a disadvantage.'' ... The Timberwolves shot 61.1 percent in the second quarter.