The Jazz were leading the Minnesota Timberwolves by seven with roughly five minutes remaining in Friday night's game. They had fought themselves out of a hole. They were on a roll. They had momentum.
And then J.J. Barea made a play that changed all that.
After Al Jefferson missed a push shot in the lane — one of only eight misses in 27 shot attempts — Barea moved into the lane to screen Derrick Favors from the transition. Favors, caught unawares, pushed the diminutive guard to the floor and was hit with a flagrant foul.
"It wasn't that bad," Barea said of the play. "I've had worse. It's part of the game. It was a lot of energy. It got my team back in the game, and that's what we needed."
"I don't know," Favors said. "I can't remember. I was called for the flagrant foul. He was playing good in the first half. When we came out in the second half, we knew we had to match his intensity."
Calling the final minutes of Friday’s game intense would be an understatement. With Utah in a must-win situation and Barea harassing the Jazz on the court in every way imaginable, it was only natural that things would get, as Utah Jazz head coach Ty Corbin said, “a little chippy.”
“We're going to fight every game,” Barea said. “Utah is a tough place to play when they need a game and the fans are into it.”
Minnesota, however, was unable to capitalize and maintain the momentum down the stretch. Over the final 3:52, Minnesota as a team made only one of eight shot attempts and could only manage to put two more points on the board, allowing Utah to go on a 10-2 run. According to the Timberwolves, this is a persistent problem that has plagued them most of the season.
“We have a lot of games with great effort,” former Jazzman Andrei Kirilenko said, “but unfortunately we haven't been able to finish those games. We're still learning, and we're going to keep fighting. We have three more games left, and we're going to keep playing hard.”
Despite Minnesota’s struggles down the stretch, it took little time for Barea to quickly become public enemy No. 1. Every time he touched the ball, boos rained down from the cheap seats. During the first half in particular, Barea was on fire. He led Minnesota in scoring virtually the entire game, despite being shut out for nearly the entire second half.
“I came in with a lot of energy,” Barea said. “I just came in aggressive. My teammates found me and set good screens for me. I got in a good rhythm early and just kept attacking.”
In six minutes on the court spanning the first and second quarters, Barea tallied 16 points and a rebound. He hit driving layups, 3-pointers and set Chris Johnson up on a thunderous one-handed alley-oop late in the first half that drew oohs and aahs from the crowd.
For Barea, the energy and intensity is all just a matter of course, something he hopes his team can learn to build on down the stretch and eventually learn to translate into wins.
“It was a good test for us for our future,” he said. “These are the games that we're going to have to win at some point.”
Kirilenko returns for the 2nd time
Kirilenko made his second visit to EnergySolutions Arena as a member of a visiting team. He said the second time around was less difficult for him.
“It was a little bit easier,” he said. “I was a little bit overwhelmed stepping onto the court the first time, but tonight was more like a regular game. I still have a lot of memories. The first row, the fans, you know them by name.”
Jazz fans greeted Kirilenko with cheers when he was announced as a starter for the Timberwolves in Friday’s game. In turn, Kirilenko had kind words for Utah.
“Jazz fans always give great representation, and they always cheer hard,” he said. “It's a good feeling.”