SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH - DECEMBER 13: Lauri Markkanen #23 of the Utah Jazz in action during the second half against the New Orleans Pelicans at Vivint Arena on December 13, 2022 in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

"Really Good Team Effort" | Best Defensive Game Of The Year Leads To Victory Over First-Place Pelicans

Ryan Kostecka
Digital Content Writer

After being shorthanded over the past week, Utah saw the return of their two-leading scorers in Lauri Markkanen, and Jordan Clarkson, and their leading-assist man Mike Conley.

What a difference being healthy makes.

All three were instrumental on Tuesday night, helping lead the Jazz to a 121-100 victory over the first-place Pelicans. Six players scored in double figures for Utah, as the win snapped New Orleans' seven-game winning streak.

"That's a really good team that we just played. … They've been playing some of the best basketball in the NBA lately," head coach Will Hardy said. "I'm very proud of the team tonight. Six guys in double figures and 31 assists, showed we played together on the offensive end. … Just a really good team effort."

After missing last week with an illness, Markkanen insisted he was good to go when speaking with reporters Tuesday morning. He said it was all about finding an early rhythm and that he would let the game come to him.

Newsflash, it didn't take long. 

He scored Utah's first six points en route to finishing with 19 for the game, adding 11 rebounds for his 11th double-double of the season. He shot 8-of-16 from the field and 2-for-7 from beyond the arc, even missing a few open ones that he usually knocks down. 

His presence in the lineup and on the court allowed Utah's offense to flow much more freely. He was also excellent defensively when matched up with Pelicans star Zion Williamson.

With three of Utah's starters back, Jarred Vanderbilt looked the most rejuvenated. 

He was arguably the best player on the court Tuesday night, dominating on both ends after finishing with 18 points and 14 rebounds — both of which were season-highs. He added six assists, getting Jazz Nation excited in the third quarter when he was on triple-double watch. 

His defensive length and high motor terrorized the Pelicans as he grabbed eight offensive rebounds, adding one block and a steal. 

Coming into the game, the Pelicans had surged to first place in the Western Conference, thanks largely to the play of their second unit. That group had constantly won their minutes in dominating fashion, being a significant factor in the win streak. 

On Tuesday, Utah beat New Orleans at their own game, outscoring the Pelicans 60-38. 

Malik Beasley was on fire from deep, finishing with a team-high 21 points. Nickeil Alexander-Walker chipped in 19 points and six assists, while rookie center Walker Kessler added 11 points, a career-high 16 rebounds, and three blocks. 

"I think the second unit has been a great strength of ours as well," Hardy said. "We've leaned heavily on them throughout the season, all those guys have been massive parts where we are in the season. We love our bench, we trust our bench. … I was happy with the way they played."

New Orleans came out like a team on a seven-game winning streak, jumping out to a quick 7-0 lead. But Markkanen answered for Utah, going on a personal 6-0 run, followed by a Conley three-pointer that tied the game at nine. 

Although the Jazz would never lead in the opening 12 minutes, they did a good job of knocking down big shots or getting timely stops, as New Orleans never led by more than four. A Beasley three at the end of the quarter saw the Jazz trail 30-29 after one. 

Playing against his former team, Alexander-Walker gave the Jazz a massive boost in the second when he had four points and three assists. With Utah trailing by three, he sparked a 7-0 run with an assist on a Beasley three-pointer and a pull-up jumper of his own.

The Pelicans responded with a quick 6-0 run as the back-and-forth affair continued. However, the Jazz got the last say as they ended the quarter on a 10-1 run, with Markkanen scoring five points. 

Utah led 52-45 at the half.

The Jazz started the third with a bang as Vanderbilt threw down a vicious one-handed dunk on a putback attempt, forcing a Pelicans timeout not even a minute into the half. After the lead reached 13, New Orleans responded with a quick 6-0 run — but Beasley answered with a three-pointer. 

Utah used a 9-2 run midway through the quarter to break the game open, but the Pelicans responded again, cutting the deficit to 12 with just under two minutes to play in the quarter. The Jazz would answer as they closed the quarter on an 8-0 run, punctuated by Clarkson's three-pointer at the buzzer. 

Utah led 91-71 entering the fourth. 

New Orleans showed some energy to start the fourth, cutting the deficit to 15 as Zion Williamson remained dominant. 

But the Jazz put the game away early, answering with a 13-2 run to take a 104-78 lead with just over seven to play.

"What stood out to me was how connected we were on the defensive end. … That's our best defensive game of the season," Hardy said. "Identifying the game plan, helping each other, rebounding as a team. … I thought our guys did a great job holding our own on that end. It allowed us to come out of here with a big win in front of the home crowd."

Clarkson finished with 11 points and three assists, while Conley began to find a rhythm in the second half, finishing with seven points and six assists. 

Both teams return to action on Thursday night for the rematch at Vivint Arena — tipoff is set for 7 p.m.