Minneapolis • A missed technical free throw is a pretty unlikely candidate for the most important play of the game.
And yet, that’s what Donovan Mitchell said allowed him to flip the switch, turning a feeble offensive performance into a dominating one. That culminated in a 72-point second half for the Jazz, allowing them to beat Minnesota for the second consecutive game, 125-111.
After Wolves star Karl-Anthony Towns earned the technical foul for loudly complaining about a non-call heading into the timeout with 6:50 left to go in the third quarter, Ricky Rubio asked that Mitchell take the ensuing free throw, to try to get his offensive game going. To that point of the contest, Mitchell had scored just seven points on 2-for-13 shooting, en route to his worst offensive game in weeks.
Mitchell missed the free throw, but then the Jazz ran another play for him. The sophomore guard went downhill into the paint, was fouled, but made the shot anyway. He converted the and-one, starting a run of nine consecutive made shots for the Jazz.
“Even though I missed [the free throw], it was one of those things where my teammates want me to keep being aggressive,” Mitchell said. “When you have teammates that back you like that, it’s awesome. It makes it easy.”
In the remaining 19 minutes, Utah would shoot 23 of 30 from the field, scoring 61 points overall. Mitchell had 22 of them on just 10 shots to finish with 29 points overall, his 12th consecutive game with 24 or more.
“Donovan started to figure out some angles in pick-and-roll,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “When we attack the rim, all of those things start to open up.”
Indeed they did. The Jazz had a successful night from 3-point range, going 15 for 39 from distance, led by Jae Crowder’s 5-of-10 and Kyle Korver’s 3-of-5 shooting from deep.
“Dribble penetration, that occurs a lot when you get sucked in and don’t take care of things at the point of attack,” Minnesota’s new 32-year-old coach, Ryan Saunders, said. “Then we have to help each other and open threes occur.”
Rubio wasn’t just helpful in his ability to get Mitchell going. He finished with 18 points on 8-of-14 shooting, adding eight assists. He played 29:50 in the contest, reflecting a minutes restriction that has become much looser as he recovers from the hamstring injury that cost him six games.
As good as the second half was for the Jazz’s offense, the first half was a struggle. They were led by Derrick Favors’ finishing around the rim, but no one else had a particularly good start to things. The final minute of the half was rough from a Utah perspective: Rubio airballed a three in transition, Mitchell let the rebound slip out of his hands and out of bounds, Bayless hit a three, Rudy Gobert passed the inbounds pass directly out of bounds, and then Bayless hit another three. A 9-point Jazz lead turned to three in a hurry.
Speaking of threes, the Wolves were using the long-distance shot to great effect, finishing with 17-of-36 shooting from deep. As the Jazz went under on screens for typically iffy shooters, Bayless and others made the Jazz pay. Andrew Wiggins had a pretty exceptional game with 35 points, while Towns finished with just 22, and only three in the fourth quarter.
“Just had to focus in more, not giving him the straight lane to the basket,” Rudy Gobert said. “We did a good job as a team keeping him off the boards. Just communicate.”
The critical fourth quarter was the polar opposite of Friday’s collapse. Rather than losing a big lead as they did at home, the Jazz stretched a five-point advantage to the 14-point lead they finished the game with, thanks to an offense that couldn’t be stopped.
That now means it’s nine wins in their last 10 games for the Jazz, moving the team into a tie for sixth place with the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference. They’re also just three games away from the third-place Oklahoma City Thunder — as well as three games away from the ninth-place Los Angeles Lakers.
Jazz 125, Timberwolves 111
• A 72-point second half allows the Jazz to pull away from the Wolves, extending the lead despite an up-and-down defensive performance.
• Donovan Mitchell flips the switch in the middle of the third quarter, turning a 2-for-13 shooting start into a 8-for-9 finish, earning him 29 points in the end.
• After the game, the Jazz fly home to escape a Minneapolis snowstorm. They’ll fly to Portland on Tuesday.