While there are no moral victories in the NBA — especially for a team battling for a spot in the postseason — Sunday afternoon at the Barclays Center came close for the Jazz.
Nearly overcoming a double-digit deficit to have a chance to win it at the buzzer, Utah came up just short in the end and fell 111-110 to Brooklyn.
“Credit to Brooklyn,” head coach Will Hardy said. “A really tough night shooting the ball from the perimeter. On the flip side, I thought our defense was really good tonight. … We did a good job protecting the paint. As usual, the team hangs tough, continues to execute on both ends of the floor.”
Trailing by 19 with just under six minutes to play, Utah looked dead in the water. But this team refused to quit, and the Jazz were nowhere near finished.
Utah reeled off a quick 9-0 run to cut the deficit to 10 with three minutes remaining, but the drama was just beginning. After Spencer Dinwiddie ended the run with a bucket, Horton-Tucker knocked down a pair of free throws and then added another layup to make it a three-point game with 46.8 seconds left.
Brooklyn would knock down some big shots, but the Jazz always answered as Ochai Agbaji’s three made it a two-point game with 11.1 to play. Dinwiddie went 1-for-2 from the line before Horton-Tucker answered with a pair of free throws, cutting the deficit to one with 7.2 to play.
After Seth Curry missed two free throws, Utah had a chance to win it, but Kelly Olynyk’s shot at the buzzer was off.
“I thought the guys dug in and stuck with it when they very easily could’ve folded at different times in the game. … Really proud of them,” Hardy said. “Lauri got the rebound but is sort of falling down, so he throws it to Kelly, and we are playing 4-on-5. I just watched it again and there was nobody to throw the ball to in that situation with Lauri so far behind the play.”
Ever since assuming the starting point guard role nearly a month ago, Horton-Tucker has shown the ability to positively affect the game in many ways — and Sunday afternoon was more of the same.
He got off to a blistering start with eight points in the first few minutes and then came alive again late in the fourth when he scored 11 points over the final 3:31 to give the Jazz a chance late.
Overall, he finished with 32 points, eight assists, and four rebounds. He shot 12-of-25 from the field, 3-for-7 from deep, and 5-of-6 from the free throw line.
After missing the past two games — and five of the past seven — while dealing with a left hand contusion, Lauri Markkanen returned on Sunday afternoon in Brooklyn.
Although it took him a while to find a rhythm, made even more difficult by the physical play of the Nets, Markkanen showed why he’s considered a legitimate All-NBA candidate. He overcame a slow start to finish with 23 points, nine rebounds, two assists, and two steals.
However, Markkanen did make NBA history when he drilled a three with just one minute left in the third quarter. He became the first player in league history to knock down 200 threes and throw down 100 dunks in a season.
As Utah looked to reincorporate Markkanen early, the Nets made it their mission to prevent the 7-footer from finding an early rhythm. With so much attention focused on him, Horton-Tucker found success as he scored eight points in the opening minutes to give Utah a 10-9 lead early.
After Brooklyn took the lead, a Horton-Tucker free throw cut the deficit to two with just over four minutes to go in the quarter. But Brooklyn took over from there.
Beginning with a Royce O’Neale — yes, that Royce O’Neale — three, the Nets knocked down threes on three consecutive possessions as they ended the first on a 13-2 run.
Utah trailed 30-17 after one.
After back-to-back buckets by the Nets to open up the second, Utah’s deficit reached 16 just one minute in.
But beginning with a Kris Dunn bucket, the Jazz settled down and got back into the game with good play on both ends of the court. Utah rattled off a 12-4 run, with six straight the end it, cut the deficit to 39-31 midway through the second.
The teams would exchange buckets for the remand of the half, with Markkanen’s floater in the lane making it a six-point game in the final minutes. But Brooklyn answered with a 5-0 run, including a three by Yuta Watanabe to close the quarter.
The Jazz trailed 53-42 at the break.
A quick 6-0 run by Utah cut the deficit to seven just 90 seconds into the third quarter, but the Nets answered immediately.
Brooklyn attacked the rim relentlessly and finished through contact, resulting in multiple and-ones as they reeled off an 18-7 run to lead by 18 midway through the third.
A Markkanen three with one minute left in the quarter cut the deficit to 15, but Brooklyn responded with a Cam Thomas bucket on the following possession.
Utah trailed 85-68 heading to the fourth.
With the deficit reaching 23 early in the quarter, Utah wasn’t done yet.
Beginning with an Agbaji and-one and ending with a Luka Samanic three, the Jazz reeled off a 10-0 run to cut the deficit to 13 with just over eight to pay. But Brooklyn answered with an 8-1 run as Cameron Johnson knocked down four free throws during that span.
A Dunn three ended the run and kicked off one final push for Utah.
“I loved the competitiveness,” Hardy said postgame.
Agbaji finished with 19 points and two rebounds, while Olynyk added seven points, 15 rebounds, and five assists. Dunn chipped in 13 points and three assists.
Utah returns to Salt Lake City for its final homestand of the season when they host the Lakers on Tuesday night. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. in the pivotal matchup.