When you're on the road and you give up 36 points in the fourth quarter, it's tough. … It's a tough loss. We just got cautious, you can't play cautious. —Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin
MINNEAPOLIS — In a recent run of misfortune and frustration for the Utah Jazz, this loss might've hurt the absolute worst.
After all, they led the Minnesota Timberwolves by as many as 18 points in the first half, took a double-digit lead into the fourth quarter and led by 16, 83-67, with less than nine minutes left. Heck, with less than 41/2 minutes remaining, Utah still led by seven points in Wednesday night's game at the Target Center.
But Minnesota staged a fierce rally down the stretch, fueled by the fierce fourth-quarter play of J.J. Barea, Derrick Williams and Luke Ridnour, whose last-gasp floater in the lane at the final buzzer lifted the T-wolves to a gritty 100-98 victory in the two teams' last game before the annual NBA All-Star break.
"Luke just made an incredible play," Minnesota coach Rick Adelman said. "He knocks that down all the time. It's a floater, he knows he has to get if off against the big guys. That was unbelievable, in traffic, getting around the guy and knocking it down. I couldn't be happier for him."
The gut-wrenching loss drops Utah's record to 15-17, while the T-wolves squared their slate at 17-17 with the dramatic come-from-behind victory, the fourth win in their last five games.
Ridnour and diminutive reserve point guard Barea combined for 23 fourth-quarter points — the Jazz, meanwhile, managed just 21 as a team — and Williams had nine more in the last 12 minutes as Minnesota poured in 36 points in the final period, refusing to fold even after Utah held a seemingly safe 13-point lead, 77-64, entering the final frame and stretched it to 16.
"The play was for J.J. to come off and make something happen," said Ridnour, who scored 11 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter. "They double-teamed him and he swung it and I was able to get there and make something happen. … I saw it (the clock) when I got it and saw it was at three seconds and knew I had time to make something happen. … To see it go in was a good feeling."
Paul Millsap had 25 points and nine rebounds for the Jazz, while Josh Howard — starting in the place of injured Raja Bell — added 19 points and six boards. Former T-wolves player Al Jefferson contributed 18 points and 11 rebounds, and Devin Harris had 10 more points for Utah.
But the Jazz, who led 39-21 in the second quarter and 49-37 at halftime, couldn't stand prosperity and let this one slip away in seeing their road record slip to 3-11.
"It's a tough loss, a game that we should have won," lamented Utah coach Tyrone Corbin. "We played well enough to win it and made some mistakes down the stretch that really cost us the game.
"When you're on the road and you give up 36 points in the fourth quarter, it's tough. … It's a tough loss.
"We just got cautious, you can't play cautious," he said of his team's fourth-quarter collapse. "You've got to play as aggressive as we did to get to that point. We lost our energy a little bit."
Nikola Pekovic chipped in with 15 points and 12 rebounds and Williams added 13 more points for Minnesota, which shot just 19 percent in the first quarter and 30.7 percent from the field in the first half before heating up big-time after halftime, finishing at a 40.3-percent clip.
The Wolves went 11-of-21 from the field in the fourth quarter, including 5-of-9 from 3-point range, as Barea banged in three 3s in the final period.
After an alley-oop dunk by C.J. Miles made it 83-67 with 91/2 minutes to go, it looked like the Jazz might get a rare road breakthrough. Utah still led by 15, 85-70, at the 8-minute mark before Barea, Ridnour and Williams brought the Wolves back from the brink of defeat.
A 17-4 run trimmed Utah's lead to two, 89-87, with 3:33 left, and from then on it was anybody's ballgame. Williams' putback basket and subsequent free throw on an and-one tied it at 93 with 56.7 seconds to go, and after Jefferson lost the ball, Williams hit two free throws to make it 95-93 with 42.5 seconds left — Minnesota's first lead since the game's opening minute.
Then in a frantic six-second span, Utah's Gordon Hayward hit a free throw, Ridnour hit two foul shots, Millsap scored in the lane and Ricky Rubio made 1-of-2 at the line to put Minnesota on top 98-96 with :22.3 left.
Jefferson, who spent three stellar seasons in a T-wolves uniform, hit a jumper to tie it at 98 with seven seconds remaining, setting the stage for Ridnour's game-deciding dagger.
"It was a frustrating loss, especially going into the All-Star break," said Howard, who had 13 points on splendid 6-of-9 shooting in the first half.
"… It was a tough one, hands down, to get beat on a buzzer-beater right before you go home. It's something that's going to be on your mind for a little bit.
"That's the type of shot (Ridnour) takes, those one-leggers. I've seen it.
"It looked good going out of his hands, and unfortunately it went in. Hats off to those guys for sticking with it. We had them down double-digits twice in this game, and they still stuck around and beat us."
And, like the man said, in a frustrating tailspin which has spoiled Utah's strong start, this one might've hurt the worst.