I feel bad for any Jazz fans who may have heart conditions — watching Team 49 this season can't be easy on the pumper.
What helps is a Utah victory, and that's what Jazz Nation got on Monday afternoon.
In what's quickly emerging as a theme this season, the Jazz played yet another close game — but behind the play of rookies Walker Kessler and Ocahi Agbaji and a HUGE free throw by Jordan Clarkson in the final seconds, Utah took down Minnesota 126-125.
"I've said it a bunch of times this year, we are perfectly imperfect," head coach Will Hardy said. "We're scrappy, we're tough, we got heart, we go through great moments, we go through tough moments, but the guys never stop fighting. "We talk about Team 49. … It's never just about one person, and I think that's what makes this group so fun and why our fanbase loves this team."
Here are five things to know following the win:
1.) Kessler Continues To Shine
Since the earth-shattering trade that sent Rudy Gobert to Minnesota, much talk around the league has been about how Utah won the trade. When these two teams took the court on Monday afternoon, most eyes were going to be on those involved.
Interestingly enough, a player who was considered a throw-in to the trade is the one who dominated on the court.
Kessler was absolutely sensational on Monday, finishing with 20 points, a career-high 21 rebounds, and two blocks, his eighth double-double of the year. He also added four assists, a huge development that he's finally catching up to the speed of the game, able to make decisions and distribute the ball out of the post.
"Obviously tonight with Walker, he was sensational and did so many good things for us, "Hardy added. "Something that will go unnoticed in the box score is that Minnesota blitzed for the majority of the game, and Walker did a fantastic job of getting into the pocket and making some great decisions for us."
"He's shown so much growth on both ends of the floor. I think defense probably comes natural to Walker in a lot of ways, but his ability to learn the offense on the fly has been tremendous."
His 20-point, 20-rebound performance was the first by a rookie in the NBA since 2014 — and he was the first rookie since Alonzo Mourning (1992-93) to put up those numbers on 65% shooting or better.
"My teammates found me in the right spots, my teammates did a good job of keeping their guys off the glass, and the coaching staff did a great job of game planning. … It was fun," Kessler said. "I think my teammates have done a great job of helping me out. I wouldn't be able to do what I do without them. … Props to them."
2.) Coming Up Clutch
For the 12th time in their last 13 games — only one being a double-digit win over Houston — the Jazz had another clutch game on their hands. But unlike what has happened in the past, it was Utah who was able to pull out the win thanks to tough defense and a few big plays offensively.
Minnesota appeared to have the momentum following an Anthony Edwards three with 4:51 to go for the four-point lead, but Kessler and Agbaji answered for Utah to tie the game less than a minute later.
After the Timberwolves regained the lead, Utah responded with a 7-0 run — highlighted by a Malik Beasley three — to lead 125-120 with 1:26 left. Eventually Minnesota would tie the game at 125 before Clarkson hit 1-of-2 free throws with 4.0 seconds left for the win.
"Another game, another chaotic finish for the Jazz. … This is who we are at this point," Hardy said.
"It feels good," Kessler added. "Definitely we can build off of this, keep going. … A lot of guys from the Minnesota trade played well, so it feels good."
3.) Agbaji Earning More Minutes
As Agbaji continues to grow throughout his career, he'll be able to look back on January 2023 as the turning point in his rookie season.
After flipping between the Jazz and Salt Lake City Stars of the G-League for the first half of the season, Agbaji has rewarded Hardy's faith in him with a breakout month.
Playing in a career-high 31 minutes — including the final five minutes of clutch time — Agbaji showed that he belongs on the court in the biggest of minutes. Whether knocking down a shot in traffic, grabbing a big rebound, or hustling on defense, he was instrumental in Utah pulling out the win.
He finished the game with 17 points and two rebounds, shooting 6-of-8 from the floor and 3-for-4 from beyond the arc. Most importantly, he more than held his own and made game-changing plays that helped affect the outcome.
4.) Conley Quietly Dominates
Following one of the most challenging stretches of his career, Mike Conley is turning things around when he posted his third straight game in double figures. But what made Monday's game different was not just how efficiently he was shooting the ball, it was how he controlled the game and did all of the little things that made the biggest difference.
Although it won't be talked about much, Conley had one of his best games of the past month when he finished with 14 points, eight rebounds, and six assists, shooting 5-of-8 from the field and 3-for-6 from beyond the arc.
He's the key to Utah's offense, the payer who can slow down the tempo and help the Jazz execute at a high rate. His ability to absorb that pressure and still make the correct decisions when it matters most is why the Jazz have stayed alive in so many close games.
5.) Sexton Getting Healthy
After taking two weeks off to give his hamstring strain more time to time to recover and heal, Collin Sexton looks almost better than ever at any point this season — and Monday was further proof.
Alongside Agabji, Sexton helped keep the Jazz afloat in both the first and third quarters when it appeared that the Timberwolves would pull away.
Using that elite first-step quickness, Sexton was able to get into the paint at will — but where his game has evolved was what he did once he got to the rim. Instead of constantly forcing up a contested shot, Sexton stayed under control and regularly found the open man. His ability to bend the defense allowed the Jazz to play with more space and rhythm, which is key for one of the top units in the league.
Sexton finished with 19 points, four rebounds, and four assists, shooting 7-of-10 from the field and 5-for-5 from the free throw line.