There were a wide range of memorable plays in the fourth quarter and overtime that helped the Utah Jazz rally past the Oklahoma City Thunder for a 120-119 win as the NBA resumed play Thursday night after the All-Star Weekend break.
One play, however, that was a hot topic in the postgame interviews happened on the first possession for the Jazz, who host the San Antonio Spurs in Salt Lake City on Saturday night.
After seeing Walker Kessler hit a corner 3-pointer during the Skills Challenge, which the rookie won with Jazz teammates Jordan Clarkson and Collin Sexton, Jazz coach Will Hardy decided to draw up a play to attempt to give Kessler his first actual NBA 3-pointer.
It worked. Utah’s center rewarded his coach later in the game by making the defensive play of the game and finished with 18 rebounds to go with his seven points.
“Yes, the first play was designed for Walker to shoot a three,” Hardy said. “Yes, he bullied me into it after All-Star Weekend when he made that three in the skills competition. And yes, I’m very happy that it went in — even though I may have created a monster.”
It ended up being the only 3-point attempt for the young big man, so monster mode hasn’t quite been activated. From outside on offense, at least. Kessler prevented the Thunder from escaping with a win Thursday and forced overtime by blocking Isaiah Joe’s reverse layup attempt in the final seconds of regulation.
That came just after Kessler made a game-tying offensive putback.
“He’s a rookie, right?” said Jazz guard Kris Dunn after scoring 11 points in his first game after signing a 10-day deal with Utah. “For him to be a rookie and to be able to understand the defensive concepts. … Defensively, if he’s doing this as a rookie, just imagine Year 4. He could be phenomenal for the Utah Jazz for a very long time.”
It was one of seven blocks for Kessler.
“I knew at that moment, because I’m a shot blocker, he’s probably going to reverse it,” Kessler said. “So what I do is I take an angle towards the middle of the floor.”
Other than that, it was the Lauri Markkanen show for the Jazz for much of the fourth quarter, when he scored 18 points, and OT, when he nailed three free throws in the final seconds to win the game.
The All-Star finished with 43 points despite only making 3 of 12 3-pointers.
The Spurs didn’t have nearly as fun of a return from their midseason break in a 142-116 blowout loss at Dallas.
Malaki Branham scored 23 and Keldon Johnson added 22 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, but San Antonio lost its 15th consecutive game. Zach Collins contributed 13 points and 12 rebounds.
“I think Zach and Keldon deserve some credit,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “They are trying to lead the way with so many guys out. Their leadership was great.”
San Antonio’s upcoming extended stay in Utah will wrap up the Spurs’ annual rodeo trip, which has had them on the road for the previous seven outings. But first, the Spurs and Jazz will play a pair of games in Salt Lake City on Saturday and Tuesday.
–Field Level Media