Soft-spoken and quiet, Luke Ridnour does his job with little fanfare.
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After sending the Timberwolves to a buzzer-beater victory heading into the All-Star break, he couldn’t help but enjoy the moment, at least for a little bit.
Ridnour hit a floater in the lane at the buzzer, capping Minnesota’s comeback from 16 points down in the fourth quarter as the Timberwolves beat the Utah Jazz 100-98 on Wednesday night.
Utah’s Al Jefferson sank a jumper with Love in his face to tie the score at 98 with 7 seconds remaining.
After a timeout, Ridnour took a pass from J.J. Barea, drove the lane, and sank a high-arching runner off of one leg over Jefferson as the buzzer sounded.
”Luke knocks that down all the time,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. ”The floater, he knows he’s got to get it off before he gets to the big guys. That was unbelievable, in traffic, getting around the guy and knocking it down. Couldn’t be happier for him.”
Ridnour said the play was for Barea to attack off the pick-and-roll, but two Utah defenders switched and took that option away so Barea found Ridnour.
”Yeah, I thought it was going in,” Ridnour said. ”To see it go in was a good feeling.”
Barea finished with a season-high 22 points and tied a career high with five 3-pointers, and Ridnour added 17 points. Nikola Pekovic, playing through an ankle injury, added 15 points and 12 rebounds.
Paul Millsap scored 25 and Josh Howard added a season-high 19 to lead the Jazz, who lost their third straight and stumble into the All-Star break.
”It’s a tough one, just hands down,” Howard said. ”That’s something that’s going to be on your mind for a little bit.”
Wolves rookie Derrick Williams converted a three-point play with 56.7 seconds left to tie the score at 93, then got fouled attempting a fastbreak layup after Love’s steal. Williams made both free throws with 42.5 seconds left to give Minnesota its first lead since 2-0, and the Timberwolves didn’t trail again.
”I like to get put in those clutch situations,” Williams said. ”I feel a little more comfortable, a little more locked in. At that point in time, I was just like, `I can’t miss these free throws.”’
Gordon Hayward had a chance to tie it with 28.7 seconds to play, but missed the second of two free throws.
The Wolves enter the All-Star break at .500 or better for the first time since the 2004-05 season. Their 17 wins matches their total from last season.
Consecutive 3-pointers from Barea and Ridnour cut Utah’s lead to 91-90 with just over two minutes to play. Ridnour also made two free throws with 26.3 seconds left to extend Minnesota’s lead to 97-94.
The Wolves have fallen behind by 14 or more points in 12 of their last 21 games, but are 12-9 over that stretch. Their latest comeback was their largest of the season.
”Anytime you’re on the road and you let a team back in it, they start thinking they can make shots and they start playing harder on defense,” Hayward said. ”It just can’t happen.”
Utah led by as many as 18 and kept pounding the ball inside to stay ahead. The Jazz – second in the NBA in points in the paint per game – finished with 58 points inside.
The Jazz lost their third straight and fourth consecutive on the road. They’ve had two road losing streaks of four or more games this season and have lost eight of their last 10 overall.
”It’s disheartening to us, but you have to learn through it,” Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said. ”We play well enough to win these games, but we have to learn how to finish. It’s real painful now and it should hurt. Coming out of the All-Star break we have to learn our lessons so we don’t make these mistakes.”
Howard started for Raja Bell, who missed the game with a strained left adductor.
Minnesota shot just 31 percent in the first half with their starting frontcourt of Love, Pekovic and Wes Johnson going a combined 2 for 19.
The Wolves finished the game on a 33-15 run and shot 52.4 percent in the fourth quarter.
”Our goal was to get to .500 at the break a couple weeks ago when we were four or five games under and we were able to do that,” Ridnour said. We understand what we have in the second half of the season with the tough schedule, but just to put yourself in a chance to make the playoffs, getting to .500 is big.”
Notes: Minnesota trailed 83-67 with 9:36 left before rallying to win. It’s the largest lead the Wolves have overcome that late into a game since Feb. 27, 1997, at Dallas. … Corbin on Derrick Favors, Jermey Evans and Hayward participating in All-Star competitions: ”It’s a tremendous reward for them to be a part of it and we look forward to having them be a part of the game on Sunday instead of the Saturday night game at some point in their career.” … Utah owes the Wolves a protected first-round draft choice this summer if it makes the playoffs. … Barea’s 22 were the most he’s scored since scoring 21 against Oklahoma City on May 21 of last season.