"A Tough Finish" | Markkanen Shines In Return, But Utah Falls To Dallas In Heartbreaker

Ryan Kostecka
Digital Content Writer

Down three starters in a critical matchup between two playoff-contending teams, Utah knew it wasn’t going to be easy against Luka Doncic and the Mavericks. 

Despite being severely shorthanded, Utah came up dangerously close in the end before falling 120-116 on Tuesday night in one of the most hard-fought games of the season. 

“A tough finish,” head coach Will Hardy said. “That’s a hell of a basketball game, back and forth where both teams made a lot of plays. Credit to Dallas, they made a few more than we did down the stretch. … But I’m very proud of the way our team competed.”

Sitting in the locker room following Utah’s loss to Oklahoma City two nights ago, I walked by Lauri Markkanen and asked him how he felt after missing the game with low back soreness. 

“I’m good. … I’ll be ready,” was the answer between bites of salad. 

Turns out the Finnisher was telling the truth — he was more than ready for Tuesday’s showdown against Luka Doncic and the Mavericks. Looking like the best All-Star on the court for much of the game, he finished with 33 points and six rebounds on 12-of-20 from the field and 5-for-9 from deep. 

Scoring at all three levels, Markkanen did a great job of coming off screens to knock down threes but also putting his head down and attacking the rim. He was also aggressive in crashing the boards, which included a brutal one-handed dunk in the second quarter that silenced the crowd at American Airlines Center.

With three starters missing, Markkanen would need help if Utah wanted to keep it close — and Talen Horton-Tucker responded with one of his best games of the past month. 

Taking over the starting point guard spot, he finished with 21 points, six rebounds, and four assists. Horton-Tucker got better as the game went on, controlling the offense and knowing when to pick his spots to attack and when to keep the ball moving. 

After starting slow over the past couple of games, Hardy said that the Jazz must stop putting themselves into deep holes in the start — it takes too much energy to try and climb out of them.

Utah got the message for Tuesday night.

Simone Fontecchio — making his first career start — knocked down a three on the opening possession as the Jazz jumped out to a 14-6 lead. 

It didn’t last long as Kyrie Irving and Doncic heated up for the Mavs, helping Dallas respond with a 19-7 run to lead late in the first. Gay had the response for Utah, scoring eight points over the final two minutes as the Jazz cut into the deficit. 

Utah trailed 34-31 after one. 

It wasn’t a great start to the second quarter for Utah as they struggled on defense, allowing the Mavs to start on a 14-4 run. The only positive was that Markkanen added an incredible dunk over Christian Wood to his poster collection. 

The deficit would reach 14 after a Dallas three, but Juan Toscano-Anderson hit a corner three, and Utah began to find a rhythm on both ends. Kris Dunn was sensational on defense, while Markkanen and Kelly Olynyk found success on offense, resulting in a 22-8 run over the final eight minutes. 

Although Markkanen was fantastic on offense, Damian Jones had the play of the quarter when he threw down a vicious dunk over Dwight Powell — the second poster of the night for the Jazz. 

Utah was tied with Dallas at 59 entering the half.

The Jazz took their first lead since the opening minutes when Horton-Tucker knocked down a wing three on Utah’s opening possession. After Dallas would battle back to reclaim the lead, a Markkanen three gave the Jazz a one-point lead at the eight-minute mark. 

After changing buckets for the next few minutes, an Ochai Agbaji free throw tied the game at 68 at the midway point. But the Mavs rattled off a quick 8-0 run before a Dunn three ended it. 

Dallas appeared to have all the momentum heading into the fourth after a Doncic three, but Jones knocked down a corner three with seven seconds left to steal the moment away. 

Utah trailed 87-86 heading to the fourth. 

A jumper by Gay and a three by Markkanen gave the Jazz a two-point lead, but Dallas answered with a 5-0 run as the teams then went back and forth for the next few minutes. A Horton-Tucker and-one — following an unsuccessful challenge by the Mavs — gave Utah a one-point lead five minutes to go, capping off a 7-3 run. 

The lead stayed one following an Agbaji three, but then Irving got cooking for Dallas. Five straight by Irving kicked off an 8-0 run, but Olynyk answered with three free throws as the Jazz trailed 115-111 with just under two to play.

Utah would cut the deficit to three with 30 seconds left following a Horton-Tucker bucket, and after forcing a miss, had a chance to tie the game with six seconds left. But the Mavs fouled Horton-Tucker, never allowing the Jazz a chance at the tying three-pointer.

“I thought our team executed pretty well on both ends of the floor,” Hardy said. “Overall, I thought our guys really competed. … Everyone who went in the game maximized what they could on the floor and contributed to what they could on both ends. I thought our team deserved to win — nothing against Dallas at all — they way we competed, I was very proud of the way our guys battled tonight.”

“This one hurts for sure, our guys in the locker room laid it all on the line and they’re hurting too.”

Olynyk finished with 12 points, seven rebounds, and three assists, while Dunn added 11 points, eight rebounds, and five assists. Gay was sensational off the bench, finishing with 10 points, six rebounds, and four assists in 17 minutes. 

Utah will look to break its four-game losing streak when they head to Orlando to face the Magic on Thursday night. Tipoff is set for 5 p.m. MT.