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'It was amazing': Gobert has happy homecoming as Minnesota beats Utah


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SALT LAKE CITY — It was a happy homecoming for Rudy Gobert.

That was bad news for the Utah Jazz.

Gobert had 22 points and 13 rebounds to help Minnesota to a 118-108 win over Utah on Friday at Vivint Arena in his first game back in Salt Lake City since being traded last summer.

It was a good night for Gobert, which began with loud cheers as he was announced in the Minnesota starting lineup. He was then given a standing ovation after a tribute video was played for him that chronicled his nine seasons in Utah. And then he got a win, too (but not after a controversial late bucket by him).

"It was amazing," Gobert said "It was kind of hard for me to really go through all the emotions because I was so focused on the game. But hearing the love, hearing all the fans saying cool things to me, watching the video on the screen, all that was very emotional."

Gobert was good — even fantastic — in his return, but it was his teammate that carried the Timberwolves late.

The Jazz climbed back from down by 15 points at halftime to tie the game late in the third quarter. But in the fourth, D'Angelo Russell took over.

Russell went 7-of-7 from the field, including 6-of-6 from the 3-point line, in the fourth quarter to help Minnesota hold off Utah. He scored 20 of his 30 points in the final 12 minutes, and each one of those 3s seemed to come at the just the right moment for Minnesota.

Four of his six triples made in the fourth quarter came when Minnesota led by a single possession. And his final two turned out to be the final back breakers of the night.

Kelly Olynyk and Mike Conley had hit back-to-back 3-pointers to cut the Minnesota lead to 2 points with 3:14 left. But Russell answered with two of his own, and just like that, the game was out of reach.

"When you're on a heater like that, it doesn't matter — hands, whatever, double teams, you're just knocking shots in," said Jordan Clarkson, who's had his share of runs like that. "He got hot at the right moment. I don't think there were too many mistakes. We were contesting his shots and he made them."

Jazz coach Will Hardy would have liked to see a bit better communication on the zone defense late against Russell and for the Jazz to find him a little earlier. He said his team was just a half-second late getting out on him; and with the way Russell was shooting, that proved to be plenty of space.

And while Russell was cooking, the Jazz couldn't keep pace; Utah was 13-of-44 from 3-point range and just 6-of-20 in the second half.

Conley had 17 points and six assists in his first game back from an injured knee, but Malik Beasley led Utah, who was without Lauri Markkanen, Collin Sexton and Simone Fontecchio, with 23 points on 9-of-18 shooting.

"A tough night shooting the ball, which puts a lot of pressure on you in other ways," Hardy said. "Of the 44 threes we took, I thought a lot of them were good looks — didn't make enough from there."

Due to the shots not falling, Utah's comeback bid fell short.

"If you're down 15 in the NBA, it takes a lot of energy to come back; and so sometimes at the end of the game, you just don't quite have the juice to get over the top," Hardy said.

That was bad for the Jazz, but good for Gobert.

"It was good to see him," Jordan Clarkson said. "Definitely a warm welcome; fans did a great job of that. He's a franchise legend, someone that's been here for the start of his career. He's grown here, became an impact player in the NBA here. It was good to see the love everybody shared with him. Happy for him, not happy that we lost. Definitely would have wanted to spoil his home return."

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