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"Gritty Team Win" | Clarkson Catches Fire In Fourth, Utah Spoils Mitchell's Return With Win

Ryan Kostecka
Digital Content Writer

What started as an emotional night with a tribute to former Jazzman Donovan Mitchell ended with a sensational performance by his former teammate, Jordan Clarkson. 

With 15 points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter, Clarkson helped will the Jazz to a much-needed victory as they closed out the Cavaliers in spectacular fashion to win 116-114 on Tuesday night.

“That’s a really gritty team win for us,” head coach Will Hardy said postgame. “We’ve talked a lot the last couple of days about our approach and mentality, being able to maintain our focus and mindset through tough moments. I thought we came out in the second half with a great purpose. … Cleveland made their run but our guys dug in and stayed focused on the little things.”

Known for catching lightning in a bottle, The Flamethrower did just that against the league’s top defense. 

With Utah trailing by five with just under two minutes remaining, Clarkson had the extremely rare seven-point possession. After hitting a three and being fouled, Cleveland was whistled for a flagrant one. Not only did Clarkson hit the free throw, but the Jazz also kept the ball — and he was fouled again on a three-point attempt and knocked down all three. 

In a span of 13 seconds, Utah went from being down five to up two. Another Clarkson bucket and free throws by Lauri Markkanen and Malik Beasley helped seal the victory.

“We’ve talked all year that we win as a team and we lose as a team. … I’m just very very proud that our guys were able to dig in tonight,” Hardy said. “Very happy for our guys that we were able to pull out the win.”

Before the game, Clarkson was preaching that it was all love between him and Mitchell and that there was no extra motivation going against his former teammate. 

While that may have been true, Clarkson didn’t play like it. 

Every time the Jazz needed a big bucket, Clarkson was the one who answered with a sensational fourth quarter when he scored nine straight points over 50 seconds. He was dominant all around, finishing with 32 points, six rebounds, and four assists on 11-of-19 shooting and 5-for-9 from deep. 

“JC was massive for us in the second half,” Hardy said. “I think he had a seven-point play, which I told him to do. He’s such a rhythm player that him getting to the free throw line helps settle him a little to see a few go in.”

Interestingly enough, Markkanen’s former team theoretically gives him the most challenging matchup on offense. Able to throw multiple bodies at him who all have size, length, and strength, it will always be a battle when The Finnisher plays Cleveland. 

He was up to the challenge on Tuesday night.

Overcoming a slow start by his standards, Markkanen finished with 25 points and 16 rebounds. He was particularly impressive on the defensive end, understanding that his side and length at 7 feet allowed him to bother the Cavs anywhere on the court. 

As expected, Jazz Nation showed a crazy amount of love when Mitchell was announced pregame — giving the former Utah guard a standing ovation. 

Playing off that energy, Mitchell was sensational to start the game — but the Jazz were up to the task as Utah jumped out to a quick 11-7 lead following a Clarkson three. Cleveland responded with a 15-5 run as Mitchell knocked down two threes. 

But behind seven points from Rudy Gay, the Jazz closed the quarter on a 15-2 run — punctuated by a Gay dunk to beat the buzzer. 

Utah led 31-24 after one. 

A bucket by Nickeil Alexander-Walker gave the Jazz an eight-point advantage at the eight-minute mark, but that’s when the Cavs responded. A 12-2 run by Cleveland gave them the lead before Mike Conley’s three calmed things down. 

The teams would exchange buckets the rest of the way as a Clarkson three and Mitchell jumper tied the game at 55 at the break. 

Utah came out firing to start the third as Markkanen and Malik Beasley scored five points each to give the Jazz a one-point lead.

Then it became the Clarkson show for the next couple of minutes. He scored eight straight points as part of a larger 12-0 run as the Jazz jumped out to a 76-63 lead with five to play.

Cleveland fought back as a Garland three made it a seven-point game and silenced the Vivint crowd — only for a second, though. Clarkson found Markkanen on the ensuing possession for a corner three to reignite the crowd again. 

However, the Cavs weren’t done as they closed the quarter on a 10-4 run.

The Jazz led 88-84 heading to the fourth.

The tough whistle for the Jazz continued as the Cavaliers were able to cut the deficit to two, forcing a Hardy timeout less than two minutes in. 

Although Utah did everything it could to hold off the Cavaliers, they still couldn’t get a foul call or a bucket to drop — and Cleveland took advantage. An 11-0 run, aided by 10 points from Mitchell, gave the Cavaliers a 101-94 lead with just over six to play.

The Jazz were able to ride out Cleveland’s hot streak and kept fighting, trailing by five with just under two minutes left — and the drama was just beginning.

Beasley and Mike Conley added 13 points and four rebounds each, while Walker Kessler added six points and 11 rebounds. Alexander-Walker was incredible off the bench, finishing with 13 points, four rebounds, and three assists. 

Mitchell tied his Vivint Arena high with 46 points, adding six assists, five rebounds, and three steals. 

The Jazz now have two days off before playing another back-to-back — their league-high 12th of the season — when they face Orlando on Friday night. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. MT.