MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Ricky Rubio wasn’t going to miss this game. Not back in Minnesota against his former team, and not with the Utah Jazz having a chance to improve their playoff position in the packed Western Conference.
Rubio, who was questionable before the game with sore left hamstring, scored 23 points and hit a season-high five 3-pointers as the Jazz beat the Timberwolves 121-97 on Sunday night.
“There was no chance I’m not playing tonight,” Rubio said, telling reporters his desire was because of the playoff race. “I know it’s a huge game. Always being smart knowing that the team needs me. This game was huge.”
Rubio, who was traded from the Wolves in the offseason in part because of his poor shooting, buried his former team further with his run of 3s. He was 4 of 4 from long range in the second quarter and had 16 points in the first half.
Rookie Donovan Mitchell added 21 points to help the Jazz climb a half-game ahead of Minnesota for sixth in the Western Conference. The loss kept the Timberwolves one game ahead of New Orleans, which lost at home to Oklahoma City.
Utah shot a season-high 60.5 percent from the field and got 50 points from its reserves to split the season series with Minnesota by winning the last two games. The Jazz have won 25 of its past 30 games.
“We’ve worked hard over the course of the season, like all teams, to be in a position to have opportunities to play games like tonight,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “Obviously, we played well tonight. Guys were focused on that. We just focused on playing well and playing together and that’s what we did.”
Andrew Wiggins scored 23 points for the Wolves, who had won two straight but fell to 19-5 at home against Western Conference opponents this season. Karl-Anthony Towns had 20 points.
“We gave them everything,” Towns said. “They shot 60 percent, that’s a tell-tale sign that you’re giving them everything. We didn’t do a good job tonight of doing the little things.”
Wiggins was aggressive early in a pivotal game for both teams. He scored 11 of Minnesota’s first 15 points and the Wolves held a four-point lead.
Utah recovered and methodically pulled away. The Jazz took their first lead at 22-20 and didn’t trail again. Jerebko hit a fall-away shot against Towns to cap a 25-10 run for a 41-30 lead.
Utah scored on four of its first five possessions of the second half to pull away and led by as many as 29 points.
“It’s hard to win if you don’t play defense,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said. “It’s about competition, competing on every play. We always talk about the two things are the execution and the intensity. So, what we did tonight wasn’t good enough, not even close.”
Jazz: PG Raul Neto missed his 10th straight game with a fractured left wrist. Six different injuries have caused Neto to miss 32 games this season. … Rubio has hit at least five 3s just two other times in his career. … Mitchell had his ninth straight game with at least 20 points, the longest streak by a rookie this season and breaking Darrell Griffith’s record for longest streak by a rookie in team history. … The Jazz are 31-7 when holding teams under 100 points this season.
Timberwolves: PG Derrick Rose was in uniform and available after missing five games with a sprained right ankle, but he was held out. … Towns finished short of a double-double for just the 14th time this season. He has a league-high 64 this season. … Rookie Justin Patton, the 16th pick in the draft, made his NBA debut. … With the importance of the game, Minnesota had its 15th sellout of the season, tying the most the franchise has had since 23 sellouts in 1991-92.
Minnesota was without starting point guard Jeff Teague, who missed the game with a sore right knee. Teague is eighth in the NBA with 7.0 assists per game and is averaging 13.8 points per game.
Teague had talked about some fatigue recently and he was injured in the last game against Dallas. Tyus Jones started in Teague’s place and had 15 points and four assists.
“I don’t want to use that as an excuse,” Thibodeau said. “Disappointed with tonight, but they’ve fought hard with Jimmy (Butler) being out and you have to when you’re down a player like that. You’re only chance is with great intensity. So when you lose another guy, you can’t go in and think, ‘OK, this is good. We’re good.’ No. You got to compete on every play. Until we understand that it’s going to be tough nights.”
Utah has won 14 of its past 15 road games.
“We’re learning how to play through adversity,” Rubio said. “In the beginning we were complaining about a lot of calls and all that stuff and we know that on the road it’s not the same as at home. … It’s a playoff race and everybody trying to win and we trying to play as aggressive as we can and referees let us play.”
Jazz: Host the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night.
Timberwolves: At Denver on Thursday night.
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