Following Wednesday’s victory over Portland, Utah head coach Quin Snyder wasn’t pleased with his team’s inability to close out the shorthanded Blazers.

“I was disappointed throughout the first three quarters that we would build a lead and then we would let up a little bit. … We didn’t extend it,” Snyder said two nights ago. “That’s something we talked about.”

Come Friday night against Minnesota, Snyder was again not pleased through three quarters. After leading by 13 at the half, the Jazz trailed by one entering the final 12 minutes.

But a 22-0 fourth quarter run quickly ended Minnesota’s comeback attempt as Utah ended the 2021 calendar with an NBA record 76 wins, taking down the Timberwolves 120-108.

After surrendering 37 points in the third quarter, the Jazz locked down defensively in the fourth.

With Rudy Gobert proving why he’s the best defensive player in the game and Utah doing a much better job of keeping the Timberwolves in front of them, the Jazz held Minnesota to 33% shooting in the final 12 minutes.

Getting stops on defense allowed Utah to get out in transition and run. They could move the ball with ease and take advantage of mismatches, with Donovan Mitchell providing the closing fireworks with 14 points in the frame.

One of the critical plays of the fourth quarter was a monster block by Gobert on Minnesota’s Pat Beverley.

For those who don’t remember, Beverley very publicly questioned Gobert’s defensive capabilities three weeks ago in the first meeting between these two teams.

“You got Rudy Gobert out there guarding (Jarred) Vanderbilt. … And every time I hear he’s defensive player of the year. So, uh, whatever,” Beverley said on Dec. 8.

While those comments made waves throughout the league, Gobert shrugged them off and allowed his play to do the talking for him — which was cemented by the big block at a significant moment in the game.

“I had emotion. … I always play with a bit of emotion,” Gobert said of his reaction. “It was a good moment. It was a key moment of the game. … We were playing great and making a run. So, yeah, just a cool block. I think if it would have been anybody else, I would have reacted the same.”

Gobert finished the game with 14 points, 16 rebounds, and four blocks, his 29th double-double of the season. Although he was only 3-of-7 from the field, he finished 8-for-10 from the free throw line and a +23 rating.

After a two-game hiatus recovering from a lower left back strain, Mitchell looked like a player who couldn’t wait to get back on the court. He scored 10 points on 3-of-4 shooting from deep in the first quarter, finishing with a season-high 39 points. He also added six rebounds and five assists while playing a point guard role with Mike Conley and Joe Ingles out.

“I wanted 40,” Mitchell said. “It’s no secret that I wanted it. … But it didn’t happen. If I make a free throw, there you go. … So that’s really on me at that point.”

Behind Mitchell’s strong start to the game, the Jazz jumped out to a 29-22 lead after the first quarter behind a late 11-2 run.

Minnesota climbed back into the game, cutting Utah’s lead to four with 4:20 to play in the half. But the Jazz responded with a 12-3 run to head into the break up 63-50.

To hear Snyder tell it, poor defense and a lack of rebounding allowed the Timberwolves to climb back into the game in the third quarter. Anthony Edwards dropped 13 points for Minnesota while Utah had trouble taking care of the ball with five turnovers.

“Our defense in the fourth quarter really picked up, and that was due primarily to our ability to rebound,” Snyder said.

Bojan Bogdanovic had one of his best games in a Utah uniform, finishing with his second career double-double with 24 points and 12 rebounds. He was excellent as a secondary scorer to Mitchell as the Timberwolves had no answer for his combination of size and shooting range.

“He always seems to hit a big three-pointer when we need it,” Snyder said of Bogdanovic.

Jordan Clarkson added 20 points while Rudy Gay chipped in 12, both of whom came off the bench.

After ringing in the New Year tonight, the Jazz return to the court for a New Year’s Day showdown with Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors.

The No. 1 offense vs. the No. 1 defense — the best three-point shooting team in the game against the best three-point shooter the game has ever seen — what more could someone want? Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. MST.

“They’re the top team in the West right now,” Gobert said of Golden State. “It’s a cool challenge for us.”


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