Coming into Saturday night, the Jazz knew it would be challenging against the 76ers.
Not only were they on the second game of their league-leading 12th back-to-back, but they were also facing one of the best teams in the NBA — and doing so without future All-Star Lauri Markkanen.
None of that mattered.
Despite being extremely shorthanded, Utah never quit and gave Philadelphia all it could handle, eventually falling 118-117 on Saturday night.
"I thought our team responded really well after the first quarter," head coach Will Hardy said. "Obviously we got off to a slow start as our defense wasn't ready, but our defensive physicality was terrific as the game went on. … We showed a lot of fight as we always do, but ultimately we were one stop short at the end."
Trailing by five with less than two minutes, Mike Conley caught fire with five-straight points as the Jazz tied the game 113. The teams would exchange leads multiple times, with Utah taking a one-point advantage following a Jordan Clarkson runner in the lane with 13.1 seconds to play.
However, Joel Embiid answered for the 76ers with the game-winner with 5.1 seconds remaining — Clarkson's three at the buzzer was off target.
"I think our team has done a really good job of self-adjusting throughout the year," Hardy said. "This team doesn't go away, they don't let down, they continue to fight to the end. … That's been a hallmark of our team this season."
With no Markkanen, Clarkson knew that a lot of the scoring and offense would fall onto his shoulders — and he was ready for it.
He finished with a team-high 38 points, adding nine rebounds and five assists. He shot 16-of-29 from the field in 36 minutes.
Every time Philadelphia appeared to be running away with the game, it was Clarkson would either get the crucial bucket, find the open man, or grab the big rebound. He was particularly special in the fourth quarter when he took the game into his own hands and refused to back down, scoring 17 points in the final 12 minutes.
After being in and out of the rotation over the past few weeks, it was Talen Horton-Tucker's time to shine with three other Jazz players (apart from Markkanen) out.
Checking into the game midway through the first quarter, it was apparent that Horton-Tucker made it his mission to put pressure on Philadelphia's defense by getting into the lane — and he did just that. Whether it was finishing at the rim or getting to the free throw line, his ability to constantly break down the 76ers defense was vital for the game.
Overall he finished with 20 points, six rebounds, and two assists, shooting 5-of-10 from the floor and 8-of-10 from the free throw line.
"I thought Talen did a good job for the most part, not settling shooting jumps shots," Hardy said. "I think he's continuing to understand that's his superpower, he can get into the paint whenever he wants."
Safe to say it wasn't the start Utah was looking for.
Philadelphia came out firing from deep and jumped out to a quick 9-2 lead less than two minutes in. But as they would all game, the Jazz refused to quit as a three by Malik Beasley and a bucket by Clarkson made it a two-point game.
A 13-2 76ers run broke the game open, and Utah was playing catch up the rest of the quarter, unable to do much as they trailed by as many as 20.
Horton-Tucker hit a shot from midcourt as the buzzer sounded, and Utah trailed 41-24 after one.
Philadelphia extended its lead to 19 early in the second, looking poised to run away with the game — but that's when the Jazz got cooking.
Utah went on an 18-3 run to cut the deficit to 53-48 as Clarkson and Horton-Tucker began to impose their will offensively. The teams would exchange buckets for the rest of the half, but Embiid banked in a three-pointer to silence the Vivint Arena crowd.
The Jazz trailed 66-56 at the break.
The third quarter was very similar to the second, with the 76ers coming out strong and extending their lead to 12. But again, the Jazz refused to quit, going on a 14-3 run as Clarkson and Mike Conley led the way.
Philadelphia would quit the crowd with a quick 7-0 run, but Utah answered back with its own 5-0 run on a three by Nickeil Alexander-Walker and a layup by Horton-Tucker.
The Jazz trailed 88-85 heading to the fourth.
To say the final 12 minutes were drama-filled would be an understatement, as each team took turns hitting big buckets and getting even bigger stops.
Unable to pull even for the game, Clarkson's push shot in the lane tied the score at 90 with 10 minutes to play. But James Harden answered for the 76ers, hitting three consecutive threes as the Jazz trailed by six with just under seven to go — setting the stage for the ending.
"I thought our attention to detail, to scramble and fight was really good tonight," Hardy said. "These are all good learning moments for our team. … We will continue to grow as a group in those moments."
After being dominated by Embiid in the first meeting, Walker Kessler was sensational in the rematch after finishing with 15 points, 12 rebounds, two blocks, and numerous altered shots in the fourth. Conley added 14 points and eight assists, while Alexander-Walker finished with seven points, seven rebounds, two assists, two steals, and one block.
Utah will have Sunday off before traveling to Minnesota to face Rudy Gobert and the Timberwolves on Monday afternoon. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. MT.