"Great Stuff Down The Stretch" | Five Things To Know Following Utah's Victory Over Orlando

Ryan Kostecka
Digital Content Writer

There’s one thing you can say about this Utah Jazz team — they’re always entertaining. 

And resilient. 

No matter the odds or circumstances, the Jazz are going to be a team that fights until the end — and Friday night in Vivint Arena was more of the same. Thanks to clutch play on both ends of the court, Utah pulled out the 112-108 victory over Orlando.

“A lot of great stuff down the stretch,” head coach Will Hardy said. “Just overall very happy that the team was able to maintain focus because I think it would’ve been easy to kind of let go.”

Here are five things to know following the win:

1.) Kessler Comes Up Clutch
If it hasn’t been done yet, it’s time to start putting some respect on Walker Kessler’s name. 

Initially considered an afterthought following the Rudy Gobert trade between the Timberwolves and Jazz, Kessler has been an absolute revelation in his first season in the NBA — and Friday night was further proof. He grabbed a key offensive rebound and knocked down two free throws in the final 13 seconds to help preserve the victory. 

Kessler was dominant on both ends of the court, finishing with a near triple-double of 13 points, nine rebounds, a career-high seven blocks, and two steals. He shot 5-of-6 from the field and 3-for-6 from the free throw line, including those two big ones in the end. 

Going up against a long and athletic Magic team with six players standing 6-foot-10 or taller in their rotation, Kessler was the one who dominated the paint. He was particularly effective on the offensive glass, grabbing seven rebounds that helped lead to 22 second-chance points for the Jazz. 

“I don’t know if you could tell but I was beaming from ear to ear,” Kessler said about his two free throws late. “I went up there and touch did the rest. … I’m not going to talk about the other free throws I missed, but I’m just happy we got the win.

2.) Another Markkanen All-Star Performance
Entering the game as one of the most efficient players in the NBA, Markkanen had an off-night against Orlando’s physical defense. After a hot opening 12 minutes, he failed to hit a shot in the final three quarters — but this is where his maturity came into play. 

Knowing the Magic were trying to be physical with him, Markkanen kept attacking the hoop and eventually made a living at the free throw line. He finished 17-of-21 from the charity stripe en route to 28 points, adding 12 rebounds, two assists, and one block. 

“He’s just done a tremendous job of not shying away from the contact,” Hardy said of his star. “It’s been a huge thing for him being our number one guy and understanding that your life can’t be all jump shots.”

3.) Jazz Show Resiliency
Although the Jazz came out with the win, it wasn’t easy — and it didn’t go as planned. 

Utah appeared to be running away with the game when they led by 12 with just under six to play following a pair of Markkanen free throws. But the Magic refused to go away, going on a 19-6 run to lead by one with 42.1 seconds to play. 

Jordan Clarkson answered with a layup on the ensuing possession, giving the Jazz an ideal scenario — up one and guaranteed to get the ball back based on time. After getting a stop, Collin Sexton was fouled but missed his two free throws, the last of which Kessler grabbed the offensive rebound and knocked down the free throws. 

With the three-point lead and 11 seconds remaining, Orlando would have one final shot but Markkanen blocked Franz Wagner’s three-point attempt to seal the victory. 

“I think that’s another example of our team staying focused through a really tough stretch and finding a way to win. … A couple guys made some really big plays,” Hardy said. “There was a really tough stretch, and the guys just dug in. … They never wavered in their approach, they were really locked in on just getting a stop and a basket when we went down one.”

4.) Guess Who’s Back, Back Again?
After playing in just five games over the past month, Collin Sexton made his return to the court on Friday night a triumphant one.

Coming off the bench, Sexton was sensational with 18 points, three assists, and three rebounds. He shot 7-of-12 from the field and 2-for-3 from beyond the arc in 24 minutes, giving the Jazz the boost and production they needed from the second unit. 

With Mike Conley out resting for the night, Sexton was instrumental in ensuring Utah got into its sets and could execute when it mattered most. But when the Jazz needed a bucket down one late, Sexton called his own number and drilled a pull-up jumper that ended Orlando’s run and ignited the Vivint Arena crowd. 

5.) Prepare For Philly
Utah will have less than 24 hours to celebrate the victory as they’re set to return to action tomorrow night when they host Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers. 

It should be an exciting game as the last time these two teams met, Embiid had a near quadruple-double when he dropped a career-high 59 points (19-of-28 shooting, 20-for-24 free throw line), 11 rebounds, eight assists, and seven blocks. 

This is where the growth of Kessler should come into play, as he’s averaging 9.7 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 4.7 blocks in his past three games.

The Jazz are currently on a two-game winning streak and are hitting their stride during this long homestand, while the 76ers kick off their five-game road trip with the first game of a back-to-back.

“Another big one tomorrow,” Hardy said.