"Sticking With It" | Utah Rallies In The Final Minutes To Stun Boston On Saturday Night

Ryan Kostecka
Digital Content Writer

Speaking with media pregame, both Utah head coach Will Hardy and Boston head coach Joe Mazzulla openly acknowledged their friendship after serving as assistant coaches with the Celtics last season.

While they've been supporters for one another this season, they also made it clear that there would be no pleasantries during the 48 minutes of game time — Saturday night was all about business.

In one of the more dramatic games of the season, Utah came up with big shot after big shot — before a huge block — as they battled back to take down Boston 118-117 on Saturday night.

"Very proud of our team, that's a really good win against a very good team," Hardy said postgame. "Again, sticking with it the entire game after being down 19 early. … We adjusted and the guys continued to battle. Our defensive intensity picked up, and our communication was good."

Saturday night was so special because it wasn't one star carrying the team. All five starters made clutch plays over the final few minutes, helping lead to the win.

Trailing by six with 2:31 to go, Lauri Markkanen kickstarted the comeback with a pair of free throws. Ochai Agbaji hit a big three to make it a one-point game, but Jaylen Brown responded for Boston with a three. Markkanen again was the answer for the Jazz, knocking down a three to make it a one-point game with 1:11 remaining.

After getting a stop defense, Talen Horton-Tucker scored the game-winner with a layup with 35 seconds remaining. The Jazz got another stop, but Horton Tucker turned the ball over with five seconds remaining, giving Boston one last chance.

The Celtics got the ball to Grant Williams at the post, and after getting around Markkanen, his shot was blocked by Walker Kessler, sealing the comeback win for the Jazz.

"You can't simulate that," Hardy said of playing in the clutch. "That stuff is so big for the growth of our team and our young players. To be in the moment and be responsible for executing to try and win the game, that's important for us."

"It's also really important for us moving forward. … For our guys to battle and be in that close game is great experience for us. It's great to get the win."

Few teams in the league are better equipped to deal with Markkanen's impressive skillset than Boston — which meant that Markkanen knew life would be tough for him on Saturday night.

Although it wasn't easy, Markkanen showed why he's considered a legitimate All-NBA candidate when he finished with a game-high 28 points, 10 rebounds, and three assists. He came alive in the fourth, scoring 12 points to help the Jazz complete the comeback.

After emerging as one of the top rookie shot blockers and rim protectors in the NBA, Kessler continues to impress and show up when the team needs him most. He overcame two missed free throws in the final two minutes to get the game-winning block with three seconds left — proof of how advanced he is despite being a rookie.

He finished with his fifth double-double of March, dropping 12 points, 14 rebounds, and three blocks.

With so many players making big plays at the end, Agbaji's three showed how much his game has grown. Coming off a dribble handoff with Kelly Olynyk, the rookie rose from beyond the arc and calmly drilled the deep three.

While that shot itself was Agbaji's fourth three of the night, it was the fact that he took that most impressed Hardy postgame. He's no longer playing methodically and thinking through the game; he's matured enough to play solely on instinct, and the Jazz are reaping the benefits.

He finished with 16 points and three rebounds, shooting 6-of-11 from the field and 4-of-8 from beyond the arc. He also was great defensively, helping limit Boston star Jaysom Tatum to just 15 points on 4-of-12 from the floor.

With five days in between games, the Jazz looked like a team who hadn't played in a while as they struggled early to find a rhythm.

Meanwhile, after winning last night, Boston stayed in rhythm and jumped out to a quick 11-5 lead following five quick points from Derrick White. Utah answered with an 8-3 run to make it a one-point game midway through the first.

Jaylen Brown caught fire for the Celtics as they reeled off a 20-8 run, but the Jazz wouldn't go away quietly. Hardy drew up a pretty inbounds play, and Markkanen knocked down a buzzer-beating three to give Utah some momentum heading to the second.

The Jazz trailed 34-24 after one.

Free throws by Markkanen made it an eight-point game early, but Boston proved why they're one of the top teams in the league. They responded with a 19-8 run as Tatum kept beating the double teams the Jazz would throw at him.

Make no mistake, the Jazz refused to quit, and just like they've done all season, they battled back.

A quick 10-3 run in which Simone Fontecchio drilled two threes cut the deficit to 12 with just under five to play. After nearly 90 seconds of scoreless play, Utah kept the momentum with a 13-2 run in which Horton-Tucker played a major role.

Tatum answered with a three and then knocked down three free throws with less than a second to play in the half. Agbaji then sunk a deep two on the other end, but the shot was called off.

Utah trailed 64-57 after the half.

It was a much better start to the second half for the Jazz as they came out playing hard on both ends.

An Agbaji layup kickstarted a 14-5 run to start the third as the Jazz took a two-point lead midway through the quarter. Agbaji also added back-to-back threes, the second of which showed just how much his game has evolved over the past six months.

Boston would retake the lead with back-to-back buckets, but Utah answered again. Beginning with a Markkanen dunk and ending with a Rudy Gay three, the Jazz reeled off an 11-2 run to lead by seven with just under four left in the quarter.

The game of runs continued as Boston answered with a 16-3 run to retake the lead, but Kris Dunn knocked down a three with nine seconds left.

Utah trailed 91-88 heading to the fourth.

The back-and-forth action continued early in the quarter, but Boston appeared to be pulling away — but Simone Fontecchio blocked a shot at the hoop, and Gay knocked down the three in transition to tie it up just two minutes in.

The Celtics finally got some breathing room with a 7-0 run, forcing Hardy to call a timeout with eight minutes left in the game. After Williams knocked down back-to-back threes for Boston, Markkanen answered with a deep three of his own to cut the deficit to four with just over five to play.

Utah's deficit would grow to six with 2:31 left, but that's when the drama was just beginning.

"That's a really good team who we have a lot of respect for," Hardy said. "It was a really good environment tonight in our building. … I thought our fans were fantastic. Rest is good sometimes, but rust can creep in sometimes. … I thought early on, we looked a little tentative and unsure of ourselves. Our guys settled in, a lot of guys made big plays tonight. … It's a good team win."

Olynyk finished with 13 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists, while Horton-Tucker finished with 19 points, seven rebounds, and five assists.

Utah returns to action on Monday night when they host Sacramento — tipoff is set for 7 p.m. MT.