MINNEAPOLIS — Gordon Hayward was hardly noticeable during the first three quarters of Saturday night’s game at the Target Center.
After not even attempting a shot in the first 15 minutes of the game, not scoring in the first half and scoring just two points through three quarters, Hayward was apparently just saving his best for last.
Because in the fourth quarter, Hayward scored 16 points, including nine in a dizzying 70-second span to catapult the Jazz past Minnesota 93-84, their seventh win in nine games.
The victory moved the Jazz back into a tie for the No. 7 spot in the Western Conference standings at 36-37, the same as Houston and a half game ahead of Dallas for the final playoff spot.
Hayward admitted afterward that he was feeling kind of weary for much of the game, the fifth of a five-game road trip, but found some extra energy in the fourth quarter.
“For sure I was tired and tried to drink a bunch of fluids and get kick-started so I could find some type of energy,” he said. “I got some easy shots there in the fourth quarter and got going in transition and attacked the basket a little bit more. I got some easier looks and my teammates found me in good position.”
Jazz coach Quin Snyder knew Hayward was “lethargic” early in the game and just kept encouraging him to make an impact at the defensive end.
“Gordon found his rhythm and gave us some big buckets,” said Snyder. “He got a steal, got a dunk, got a couple of things going to the basket and that got him going.”
The Jazz were leading just 65-63 early in the fourth quarter in a game that had been tight since late in the first half. That’s when Hayward suddenly went off.
First he dunked off a nice pass from Derrick Favors, and was fouled, completing a three-point play. After a Minnesota miss, Hayward again drove it inside and was fouled for another three-point play. The next time down, Hayward pulled up for a 3-pointer from the right angle and drained it.
Just like that, Hayward had nine straight points, turning a two-point game into a 74-63 lead for Utah, and the T-Wolves never got closer than eight the rest of the way.
Favors led the Jazz with 19 points, followed by Hayward’s 18, while Rodney Hood and Trey Lyles each chipped in 15 points.
For Minnesota, Ricky Rubio was the most effective player, scoring 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting and also adding six assists and four steals. However he didn’t get much help as heralded second-year player Andrew Wiggins was a non-factor in scoring 12 on 4-of-12 shooting, while slam-dunk champion Zach LaVine only managed nine points on 3-of-11 shooting.
Karl-Anthony Towns, the favorite for rookie of the year, had his moments in finishing with a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Minnesota was coming off a double-overtime victory at Washington the night before and may have been tired, but Snyder pointed out before the game that the T-Wolves have “young legs” with a starting lineup that averages 22.6 years of age.
It looked that way in the first quarter when the Jazz took an 18-10 lead, holding the T-Wolves to their lowest first-quarter output of the season. The Jazz went up by 12 in the second quarter, only to see Minnesota close on a 9-0 run to cut it to 35-34 at the half.
Neither team could break away until Hayward went on his scoring spree between the 9:49 and 8:39 marks of the final quarter.
“Give Utah credit, they ran their stuff, they’re bigger, they’re physical, they beat us up a little bit,” said Minnesota interim coach Sam Mitchell. “We’re not going to sit here and use fatigue or playing a double-overtime game (as an excuse). This is the NBA, everybody has to do it.”
The Jazz return home Sunday and will play the Los Angeles Lakers Monday night in what will be Kobe Bryant’s final game in Utah. The Jazz will also honor longtime Jazz player Andrei Kirilenko.