MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — During his three years in Minnesota, Timberwolves fans saw everything Al Jefferson showed in a Utah Jazz uniform on Wednesday night. The endless pump fakes, the odd-angle jumpers, the tenacity on the boards.
Everything except the big fella running a coast-to-coast break and igniting what proved to be a game-deciding run.
Jefferson had 20 points and 11 rebounds, and Paul Millsap scored 21 points to power the Utah Jazz to a 97-93 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night.
“He’s cat-quick now,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said with a smile. “He’s always saying he’s a (small forward). That was a good look.”
Jefferson helped the Jazz overcome a sluggish start against his former team to pick up a rare road win against a Western Conference opponent. Utah now has four wins in 17 road games in the West.
Big Al spent three seasons in Minnesota after being traded from Boston as part of a package for Kevin Garnett, and he endeared himself to the long-suffering fan base here with his creative low post game. He was traded to Utah in 2010, partly so the Wolves could make room for Kevin Love in the frontcourt. Love is out with a right hand that is broken for the second time this season, and Jefferson had his way with the rest of the Wolves down low.
But his highlight came in the third quarter when he ripped the ball away from Luke Ridnour and took it the length of the court for a layup to give the Jazz a 60-59 lead in the third quarter.
“Yeah, that was kinda cool,” Jefferson said with a chuckle.
That seemed to jumpstart the Jazz, who went on a 16-6 run over the next six minutes. Enes Kanter scored six points early in the fourth quarter and Utah led 81-67 midway through the final period.
As they have done so many times this season, the Wolves went on a late run, ripping off nine straight points to pull within 90-86 with 50 seconds to go. Millsap fouled Williams on a 3-pointer 30 seconds later, and he hit all three shots to make it 93-91.
But another former Timberwolves player, Randy Foye, hit four free throws down the stretch to put the game away.
“It’s a lesson we should have learned by this point,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said about another slow start.
Derrick Williams had 24 points and a career-high 16 rebounds, and Ricky Rubio had 18 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds for the Timberwolves, who shot a season-low 34 percent.
Nikola Pekovic had 19 points and 13 rebounds, and Luke Ridnour scored 18 points for Minnesota, which lost for the 16th time in 19 games.
“It’s tough,” Williams said. “We’re trying our hardest, but we can’t just keep doing this over and over. We’ve got to win a few of these games. We try to get this game right before the All-Star break to give us a little momentum like we did last year. We had a good effort tonight, just couldn’t get it done.”
The Jazz trailed 17-10 after a lifeless first quarter, shooting just 25 percent from the field. But Jefferson and Millsap started flexing their muscle to gradually take control of the game. The Jazz outscored Minnesota 54-30 in the paint and 43-12 off the bench.
“I guess it’s just the way they play us,” Millsap said. “They are so concerned about Al I just feed off him, good looks, offensive rebounds, things like that get me going.”
Both teams were playing the final game before the All-Star break, and just about everyone appeared to have one eye on the game and one eye on their flight out of town in the early going. Shooting percentages were in the high 20s well into the second quarter and turnovers were rampant.
The break will do both teams a ton of good.
The Wolves have suffered through major injuries all season long. Love (broken hand), Chase Budinger (knee) and Brandon Roy (knee) have missed most of the season, while Andrei Kirilenko (bruised quad) missed his fifth straight game. J.J. Barea played with a sprained foot that could use a few days off and Ridnour has taken a beating all season long while playing out of position at shooting guard.
The Jazz missed forward Gordon Hayward for the 10th straight game with a sprained right shoulder.
NOTES: This marked the eighth game this season Jefferson and Millsap each scored at least 20 points. … Kanter, whom the Wolves considered drafting over Williams two years ago, had 10 points and DeMarre Carroll had 11 points and five rebounds.
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