"A Lot Of Big Plays Tonight" | Utah Comes Up Clutch On Both Ends, Takes Down Orlando In Dramatic Fashion

Ryan Kostecka
Digital Content Writer

In one of the best road games of the year, Utah needed one bucket to clinch the win. As he's done all season for the Jazz, Lauri Markkanen was that guy.

His running floater in the lane over two defenders with 10 seconds remaining put the nail in the coffin as Utah picked up the 131-124 victory over Orlando on Thursday night.

"I was really pleased with a team win on the road," head coach Will Hardy said. "We talked a lot about us being about the whole team, everyone has something to bring and contribute to us winning games. When everyone stays focused and understands what everyone else brings to the party, we can play really good basketball."

The last time these two teams met, it wasn't the best game of the season for Markkanen. Although he still finished with a game-high 28 points and 12 rebounds, he shot just 4-of-13 from the field and struggled against Orlando's length and bevy of defenders.

Thursday night was a different story.

Markkanen was once again sensational — and this time much more efficient — finishing with 31 points and five rebounds on 11-of-22 from the field and 3-of-9 from deep. Refusing to be rushed and playing at his own pace, Markkanen was great coming off screens and navigating his way to the rim.

With Utah's two primary ball handlers, Jordan Clarkson and Collin Sexton, still out recovering from injuries, a lot of pressure had fallen on the shoulders of Talen Horton-Tucker. While there have definitely been growing pains — said as much by Hardy — Horton-Tucker is getting more comfortable running the offense.

After making positive strides in the second half of Tuesday's game, Horton-Tucker carried that momentum with him into Thursday's showdown.

He finished with a season-high 23 points on 10-of-18 from the field. Most importantly, he finished with eight assists to two turnovers, showing his command of the offense and the ability to attack under control.

"He did a great job of knowing when to attack and when to find his teammates. … I know he had 23 points, but it was eight assists that did it," Hardy said.

As far as starts go, Utah couldn't have asked for anything better.

Ochai Agbaji knocked down a three on the opening possession, Markkanen had three points on the following possession, and Walker Kessler blocked fellow rookie Paolo Banchero's drive to the hoop.

The Jazz would slowly expand the lead to 11, 24-13, following a pair of free throws from Simone Fontecchio late in the first. But Orlando battled back, closing the quarter on a 13-3 run as Franz Wagner heated up, including a buzzer-beating corner three over Markkanen.

Utah led 27-26 after one.

The second quarter is where the action picked up, with both teams showing off elite shot-making and creating.

After both teams exchanged buckets for the first six minutes, the Magic turned it up another level with a 14-6 run to take a 50-45 lead with just over three minutes remaining in the half.

But the Jazz did what they've done all season. They refused to get fazed and kept executing on offense, ending the half on a 17-6 run as the starters reestablished control. Utah controlled the pace down the stretch, beginning with a Markkanen three-point play and ending with a pair of Kessler free throws.

The Jazz led 62-56 at the break.

After a Fultz bucket to begin the third, the Jazz picked up right where they left off. Agbaji drilled another three, and Utah was off and running, going on a 15-6 run with Markkanen scoring six points during the stretch.

However, the drama was just beginning.

Orlando refused to go away, and riding the hot hand of Fultz, went on a 16-6 run to take a 91-89 lead with less than three minutes to go in the quarter. Back-to-back threes by Cole Anthony and Fultz gave the Magic the lead and forced a timeout by Hardy.

The Jazz would answer by going on an 8-2 run, but Jalen Suggs drilled a three for Orlando with three seconds remaining.

The game was tied at 97 entering the fourth.

A Fontecchio stepback jumper from the corner gave Utah a two-point lead, but then Kris Dunn got going for the Jazz. Back-to-back buckets, a steal, and a hockey assist that led to a Fontecchio three gave Utah an eight-point lead with just under eight to play.

Two more free throws by Dunn extended Utah's lead to nine, but the Magic refused to quit. Back-to-back threes by Banchero and a third by Garry Harris capped off a 9-2 run as Utah's lead was cut two with just over five to play.

After Orlando cut the deficit to two, Kessler got a great stop defensively and finished with a dunk on the other end, while Dunn followed up with a bucket in the lane. But the Magic answered with a 5-0 run to cut Utah's lead to one with less than a minute to play.

Kessler was again the answer, grabbing an offensive rebound and getting the and-one to put the Jazz back up four with 35 seconds to go. After Banchero sunk a free throw, Markkanen put the nail in the coffin for the win.

"I'm just happy for the guys to dig in and get a win on the road," Hardy said. "I thought our team stayed focused and executed throughout the whole game. Seven guys in double figures, and a lot of guys made a lot of big plays tonight. … Just really proud."

Kessler finished a double-double of 13 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, and three blocks, while Agbaji added 14 points on 4-of-8 from deep. Fontecchio gave the Jazz a great spark off the bench, finishing with 17 points and three steals, while Dunn was equally excellent in the fourth, adding 12 points, nine rebounds, four rebounds, and three steals.

After picking up its first win of the road trip, Utah will head north to face Charlotte on Saturday night. Tipoff is set for 5 p.m. MT.