As the pressure has mounted late in the season, Utah has proven that they're a team that will play for the full 48 minutes. And if the game just happens to go longer, the Jazz have also proven to be ready for that.
Utah's resiliency was on full display Tuesday night against the Lakers. In a pivotal showdown with massive postseason implications, Utah used a late 10-0 run to force overtime — but the Jazz couldn't pull off the upset and fell 135-133 to Los Angeles on Tuesday night.
"The guys hung tough. … I'm very proud of our team," head coach Will Hardy said. "They (Los Angeles) made big plays, we made big plays as well. … The margins are very thin in an NBA game when you play a good team. We're one shot away by either team from feeling way different than how we feel right now."
When speaking with media following shootaround, Talen Horton-Tucker was asked if there's any revenge aspect to Tuesday's game against his former team. The soft-spoken Horton-Tucker responded with a simple no, stating that the game with high stakes was all business.
He backed up his words.
After a slow start in which he forced the action a bit, Horton-Tucker showed off his growth as he settled in and allowed the game to come to him. He responded by finishing with 23 points and seven assists, adding four rebounds and two steals.
With Los Angeles's length and physicality seemingly bothering him on the perimeter, Horton-Tucker refused to settle for fadeaway jumpers. Using his strength and length, he attacked the rim at will and made a living at the free throw line, where he finished 9-of-13.
Days after Hardy referred to Kelly Olynyk as an unsung hero for the team this season, Olynyk turned in one of his best performances of the year on Tuesday night.
Despite defending LeBron James and Anthony Davis at pivotal moments, he did some of everything for the Jazz. He finished with 23 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists, shooting 7-of-10 from the field, 4-for-4 from deep, and 5-of-6 from the free throw line.
It's no coincidence that each time the Jazz made a run to get back into the game, Olynyk was on the court. His calming presence helped settle Utah down in the most pivotal moments, allowing them to nearly pull out the upset.
With the stakes high before tipoff, you could feel the tension in the arena — but the Jazz were up to the challenge early.
A three by Agbaji capped Utah's 5-0 run less than a minute in, but Los Angeles responded with a pair of threes, including one by former Jazzman Jarred Vanderbilt. Utah would late retake the lead following an Olynyk, up 14-10 near the midway point of the first.
Los Angeles, behind the play of Anthony Davis, battled back with an 8-0 run as Davis was the only scorer. Another Agbaji three would later cut Utah's deficit to one, but the Lakers later opened up a six-point advantage late in the quarter.
However, Simone Fontecchio kept the Jazz alive in the final minutes. He knocked down a pair of threes, including one with 10 seconds left, as Utah closed on a 5-0 run.
The Jazz trailed 34-33 after one.
After missing the past 18 games, Collin Sexton gave the Jazz a one-point lead following a pull-up jumper from the elbow over former Jazzman Malik Beasley. But the lead was short-lived as LeBron James found a rhythm, knocking down a three on the ensuing possession as Los Angeles answered with an 8-0 run.
But right when it looked as if the Lakers would pull away, the Jazz kept coming back. Luka Samanic knocked down a three, kickstarting a 7-3 run as Utah pulled with three midway through the quarter.
The teams would exchange buckets for the next few minutes before Los Angeles seized control. The Lakers went on a 17-8 run before Horton-Tucker knocked down a free throw to close the quarter.
Utah trailed 68-57 at the break.
Utah refused to back down despite the Lakers stretching their lead to 14 following an Austin Reaves three one minute into the second half.
Horton-Tucker knocked down a pair of free throws as the Jazz rallied with an 11-0 run to cut the deficit to four with just over eight to go. Horton-Tucker scored six points during the run, while Samanic knocked down another three.
A 10-2 run by Los Angeles put them back in front by 12, but the Jazz answered again. Damian Jones knocked down a pair of threes while Olynyk sunk a technical free throw for a 7-0 run, forcing a Lakers timeout with four minutes left in the third.
The teams would exchange buckets for the rest of the quarter as Sexton began to heat up with back-to-back jumpers to end the third.
Utah trailed 97-93 heading to the fourth.
The start of the fourth quarter brought Vivint Arena alive as three straight buckets gave Utah its first lead since the opening minutes. Los Angeles would respond with a quick 5-0 run, but a Juan Toscano-Anderson bucket cut the deficit to one just three minutes in.
The Lakers began to pull away, taking an eight-point advantage following a James bucket with four minutes left. But Agbaji answered with a corner three, giving the Jazz hope in the final minutes.
Trailing by seven with two minutes remaining, Utah closed regulation on a 10-0 run as Damian Jones knocked down a pair of free throws with 10 seconds left to force overtime.
The final five minutes were reminiscent of two heavyweight boxers exchanging haymakers, with neither falling.
An Olynyk three-point play started the scoring just three seconds in, but James tied it up with a deep three on the following possession. Utah would later take a three-point lead on another Olynyk three with 1:39 remaining, but the Lakers answered with four straight to take a one-point lead with less than a minute to go.
Horton-Tucker tied it with a free throw, but James had the final answer for Los Angeles — hitting a shot in the lane with 27 seconds remaining. The Jazz had one last chance, but Horton-Tucker's fadeaway from the elbow was off the mark.
"I'm not surprised at all," Hardy said when asked about his team's ability to fight against the odds. "We try to empower everybody to play really hard play within our structure. … They just continue to compete, pull together, and the crowd feeds off their energy. We're not always the prettiest team, but the energy and the way our team competes every night is infectious."
Agbaji had one of the best games of his rookie season, finishing with 22 points (4-of-8 from deep), four rebounds, and three assists. Jones had his best night in a Utah uniform, finishing with 16 points (3-of-3 from three) and eight rebounds. Sexton chipped in 15 points (14 shots in 16 minutes), while Samanic added 12 points.
Utah continues its homestand on Thursday when they face Oklahoma City — tipoff is set for 7 p.m. MT.