HOW ‘BOUT THIS JAZZ (GAME 71)
UTAH HOLDS KINGS RANSOM
JAZZ 128 KINGS 120
How do you make a 3-time All-Star Cry? By making him go one on one against Utah Rookie, Walker Kessler apparently. The tears of Domantas Sabonis still lay puddled on the hardwood at Vivint arena after Utah’s gutsy 128-120 win over Sactown. Utah would build up a massive lead by as many as 25 points, and lead for 38:00 minutes of the action. Like Jazz teams before them, the Jazz would allow Sacramento to crawl all the way back as the crafty Kings took their first lead of the game with 9:15 remaining in the 4th. Unlike the teams before them however, Utah would still find a way to avoid completely collapsing as The Jazz and Kings would then trade blows down the stretch. And unlike Jazz teams of the past, they didn’t hope their superstar could pull them through after all else crumbled. They simply relied on each other, refocused, regrouped and got back to doing the nitty gritty. Yes, I’m aware that Sacramento missed three consecutive threes in the same offensive possession, but let’s give the jazz some credit here! Walker Kessler was massive defensively all night long, Kelly Olynyk had a big-time corner three ball go down, Kris Dunn closed the game and had a clutch three himself. All of those players were absurd to watch in the wining effort, but to truly set the scene, let us transition awkwardly to our….
BUILDING BLOCK OF THE GAME:
The rookie out of Kansas, Ochai Agbaji shouldered the offensive load as the game got tough. Yes, Agbaji, who hasn’t been asked to do much outside of hit threes and play defense became the go to guy for a team without three starters. No Markkanen, no Sexton, no Clarkson. Just Ochai getting it done. Agbaji’s 27 points was a career high for the guard as well as the six triples he drilled along the way. Even more impressive however was the prowess he showed in clutch situations. With the team down 2 under three minutes to go, Ochai would casually step into a three ball off a small pick as if he was the newest version of Donovan Mitchell to reclaim the lead. The next time down the floor He worked himself down into the paint and hot a contested, bodied up off the glass layup attempt. Lastly with the Jazz protecting a three-point lead with 41 second remaining, Agbaji would draw a shooting foul and calmy sink two free throws to all but seal the deal. This experience and opportunity could be the difference in creating either a standard role player or something a bit more. What the future holds is still unclear but it continues to shine brighter after every Jazz performance. Oh, and for fun, Agbaji blocked the living snot out of Trey Lyles adding to the category of former disliked Jazz players getting blocked by young up and coming stars. (See Donovan Mitchell blocking Gordon Hayward).
Apparently not even back soreness can slow down this chippy group of dynamos. The Jazz shot 52 percent from the field, a plus 10 percent advantage over their road weary opponent. The Jazz lost the three point battle by only making 16 threes compared to the Kings 19, but they won the war by attempting 16 less. The Jazz had more assists and more rebounds to add to their cause, easing the burden of six more turnovers than Sacramento. You can in large part thank “Point Guard at heart” Kelly Olynyk for the even distribution of solid stats. Kelly was an all-around player in the victory with 19 points on 50 percent shooting. He hit 4 threes, many in big moments after a pump fake and reset, and poured in a team high 10 rebounds. If he could have put forth two more assist, he would have broken the Jazzman triple double drought. Instead, fans will have to settle for the 8 he dished out. If you want More assists look no further than Kris Dunn who had 10 with his smooth season high 18 points. At one point in the 2nd quarter, Eric Walden pointed out that Dunn had scored 9 points and assisted on 11 points to give you and idea of the type of performance he put forth. Walker Kessler had 10 points and 8 boards, but his 5 blocks were the big digit, with 4 of those against Sabonis himself. Talen Horton-Tucker had a couple highlight worthy plays but didn’t have the same Moxy as Dunn and struggled with 4 turnovers as Kris would play nearly 12 more minutes than THT. Simone Fontecchio had 12 points on a rough 13 shots, but played the 2nd most minutes of any Jazz man. Rudy Gay chipped in 11 off the bench on 11 shots but was a plus six in his minutes. The big bench performance next to Kris Dunn was Udoka Azubuike. Many fans, myself included, have counted his days as numbered. Dok was an offseason away from being away from Salt Lake City, but after 7 DNP-CD’s, Will Hardy turned his way for the backup Center role. Dok Delivered with a career high 13 points in almost 18 minutes. He was a perfect six of six from the field and ripped down 8 boards in that time. There have been questions about his attitude and work ethic, but last night there was no doubt he had stayed ready to play when his number was called. He was a key contributor and a component f a jazz win. It may have been the best game of his NBA life and he needs every moment like that to potentially further his career and opportunities.
For the Kings, the most clutch team in the association per the Jazz broadcast, they couldn’t out clutch a Jazz team boasting a closing lineup of Dunn, Agbaji, Fontecchio, Olynyk and Kessler. De’Aaron Fox would have 21 of his 37 in the 2nd half willing the Kings back into the ball game, Keegan Murray had 19 of his 22 in the same time frame allowing the Kings to make it a ball game, but Sacramento could not overcome the sever lack of Domantas Sabonis. Sabonis is likely to have nightmares of highlight yellow as Walker Kessler blanketed him to the tune of 11 points on 11 shot attempts. Sabonis impacted the game elsewhere with a game high 12 rebounds and 9 assist, but the Kings needed that extra punch outside of Fox and Murray that they just couldn’t find. Sabonis came into last night’s contest hot off of a 30-point performance n 83 percent shooting. He has had a historically impactful season, so for Kessler to do what he did speaks volumes. Harrison Barnes scored 16 on the night but put up a big fat zero in the 2nd half. Malik Monk led the Kings with 15 off the bench, but did so on 15 tries. No one else on the Kings bench scored more than 4 points, and Trey Lyles in nearly 26 minutes was 1 of 6 for 3 points.
THREE KEY NUMBERS:
With the Ochai Agbaji stock in high demand, what better time to reflect on his recent accomplishments? David Smith singles out Ochai’s stats when gets 30 or more minutes in a game, which he had a team high 33 VS Sacramento. In these starter type situations, Agbaji is averaging 16.1 PPG on 52-45-100 shooting splits. In this time, he is only averaging 0.6 turnovers a game while contributing 2.3 RPG and 1.4 APG.
Ben Dowsett did an eye-opening deep dive on some Walker Kessler defense after his lockdown of the Kings 3x All-Star. Dowsett notes that in March alone, opponents have tried Kessler at the rim 56 times, or 8 times a game. Opponents have only converted 39.3 percent of the time for 22 made baskets in those 56 tries. Basically, very few are protecting at the level Kessler currently is.
The Utah Jazz saw 4 rookies take the floor in the win. All played more than 10 minutes in a tight game. Apparently, youth alone is not enough to lose when the vibes and coaching are as efficient and constructive as they are. Two of those rookies in Simone Fontecchio and Johnny Juzang went undrafted.
OPPOSING FAN COMMENT OF THE NIGHT:
“Been busy and every time I looked up; I saw a highlighter going downhill for an easy jam.” -Ktrisler22