Another game, another close finish.
In what’s been a theme throughout the season, the Jazz have proven that they can never be counted out of a game. Despite trailing by double digits in the second half, Utah stuck to the script and battled back to make it a one-possession game with less than five minutes to go.
Unfortunately, the Knicks caught fire from deep late in the fourth and the Jazz didn’t have one more comeback in them, falling 126-120 to New York on Saturday night.
“Proud of the team’s effort on the second night of a back-to-back,” head coach Will Hardy said. “I thought our competitive spirit was there, I thought the team battled and executed. … It’s always little things that add up to winning and losing.”
Sometimes it’s not how you start; it’s how you finish — and Lauri Markkanen was tremendous in the second half on Saturday.
After a slow first half in which he scored just six points, Markkanen exploded for 23 in the second, 17 of which came in the deciding fourth quarter. He scored in many ways in the final 24 minutes, showing that he’s well-deserving of being named an All-Star starter.
He finished with 29 points, five rebounds, three assists, and three blocks.
It would be an understatement to say it’s been a rough couple of days for Jordan Clarkson. First, one of his closest teammates and friends, Mike Conley, was sent to Minnesota as part of a three-team trade on Wednesday. Then he came down with an illness that caused him to miss Friday’s game against Toronto.
So when he finally took the court on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, there was a feeling that Clarkson was going to make up for lost time — and he did.
Despite a cold-shooting night from three, Clarkson kept attacking the rim and got big bucket after big bucket for the Jazz. He finished with 24 points, six rebounds, and three assists, shooting 9-for-15 from shots within the arc.
When the Jazz traded three guards a few days ago, there were a lot of questions as to who would step up in their place and provide valuable — particularly those off the bench.
Three games later, it’s clear that Talen Horton-Tucker is ready for the more significant role.
He finished with a season-high 23 points and seven assists, shooting 8-of-12 from the field. He thrived the most when getting downhill, using his strength and length to attack the rim at will, where he finished 6-of-8 from the free throw line.
Just 24 hours after getting off to a brutally slow start in Toronto, the Jazz came out much more prepared on Saturday — and Collin Sexton was the primary catalyst. The Jazz jumped out to a 9-8 lead as Sexton scored a quick five points and had two assists early.
But the Knicks, also playing the second game of a back-to-back, found a rhythm behind the play of Jalen Brunson. A quick 6-0 run gave them back the lead, and then a separate 11-2 run late in the quarter gave them a 33-22 advantage.
However, Utah refused to wilt. Rudy Gay kicked down a contested three before Horton-Tucker stole the ball from Brunson and then banked in a buzzer-beating three to give the Jazz the momentum.
Utah trailed 33-28 after one.
Gay started the second hot for the Jazz, scoring six quick points on various moves as Utah trailed by one early. But then Utah went cold and the Knicks got out in transition, reeling off a quick 10-0 run — which was immediately answered by a Jazz 7-0 run.
The teams would then trade buckets for the rest of the quarter before New York went on a quick 7-0 run as the deficit was back to double digits. An Olynyk three stopped the bleeding, but the Knicks hit a three of their own as Utah trailed by 12 late.
Again, the Jazz came alive in the final minutes, closing the half on a 6-0 run as Olynyk got the buzzer-beater.
Utah trailed 62-56 at the break.
It was another fast start for the Jazz, going on a quick 10-2 run to begin the third. Clarkson got the first bucket, and then Markkanen got back-to-back thunderous dunks, the last one was a poster over Jericho Sims.
Again New York had an answer, responding with a 10-3 run as Julius Randle and RJ Barrett started to heat up. The teams would again exchange buckets for the rest of the quarter, with the Knicks taking a six-point lead with 10 seconds to go following a Randle three. But rookie Ochai Agbaji answered, knocking down a deep three on a pass from Horton-Tucker to end the quarter.
Utah trailed 87-84 heading to the fourth.
The fourth quarter resembled two heavyweight fighters exchanging blow after blow, but this time it was bucket for bucket.
Despite entering the game knocking down over 40% of his threes, Markkanen couldn't buy one through the first three quarters — but he got them to drop when it mattered most. His back-to-back threes tied the game at 99 midway through the fourth.
New York, also struggling from beyond the arc, hit threes on three consecutive possessions as the Jazz trailed by nine with three minutes to go. Two of the threes came on offensive rebounds.
Markkanen responded with a three to stop the bleeding, and the Jazz had a chance to make it a five-point game with over a minute to go, but Sexton came up empty at the free throw line — ending the comeback attempt.
Sexton finished with 15 points, five assists, and two rebounds, while Walker Kessler added four points, 15 rebounds, and two blocks. Olynyk added 11 points, three rebounds, and three assists.
Utah will have Sunday off to watch the Super Bowl before continuing their road trip with a stop in Indiana against the Pacers on Monday night. Tipoff is set for 5 p.m. MT.