The game on Thursday night at Vivint Arena had already been crazy by the time that the overtime period began between the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder.
From game-saving blocks by Walker Kessler and the fourth quarter heroics of Lauri Markkanen to the wild dunks and timely shots across the board, this game really did have everything.
But the final moments of overtime were just a roller coaster.
How the Jazz won
With about a minute and fifteen seconds left in overtime, the Jazz trailing by just one point, Markkanen had the ball in his hands and was wide open at the top of the arc. He missed.
But rookie Ochai Agbaji got a long rebound and the Jazz had a second chance. This time it was Kelly Olynyk who was wide open for a 3. He missed.
But wait! Markkanen wrangled another rebound and got the ball to Jordan Clarkson. Surely this would be the one. No, he also missed his 3-point attempt.
But then Kessler grabbed a rebound and was fouled on his putback attempt. The Jazz could take the lead at the free throw line. This absolutely was the chance they needed, right?
Well, Kessler missed both free throws. It looked like the Jazz had been given every chance to win the game but the basketball gods were not smiling on them. But their fate turned and it turned out that free throws, not 3-pointers, would be the deciding factor in this game.
A couple of key shots from the free-throw line from Clarkson were followed by the Thunder’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander missing one of his two attempts from the line in the last moments.
That gave Markkanen exactly the opening he needed. He dribbled, crossed over, hesitated and then stepped back right when he felt contact and drew a foul on a 3-point attempt with just 4.6 seconds left in overtime. He hit all three of his free throws and the Jazz narrowly earned a 120-119 victory.
Let this be a lesson to all the young hoopers — practice your free throws.
For about the millionth time this season we really have to appreciate the brilliance of Markkanen and how much his game has just evolved and exploded.
He scored 43 points on Thursday and that was on a night when he really did not have his shot. He went 3 of 12 from 3-point land. But he also had some insane dunks, really powerful drives, and grabbed some rebounds that I thought he had no chance at.
Markkanen said that a couple years ago he changed up his training program a little bit to gain more strength and to make him a little more mobile and athletically versatile. In addition to that, he’s gaining more and more belief in himself every day.
“Yeah, I’m more confident and it’s just the mindset to go out there and make a difference — be The Finnisher,” he said with a smile. “Just trying to switch things up. So, like even though the 3 is not falling I still have all the confidence in the world that the next shot is going in.”
Markkanen scored 18 points in the fourth quarter and six points in the overtime period. Though Markkanen set his career-high with 49 points earlier in the season, Thursday night’s game might have been his most impressive performance of the season because of the way he took over and willed the team to a win.
Walker Kessler’s 3-point moment
On the Jazz’s first offensive possession of the game they ran a play to get Walker Kessler open from the right corner. He very casually popped out and let go of his first NBA 3-point attempt and it went in.
The crowd went absolutely insane.
did anyone have a Walker 𝘵𝘩𝘳𝘦𝘦 on their bingo card??? #TakeNote | @WalkerKessler13 pic.twitter.com/1Ksny7f1nC— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) February 24, 2023
After the game, before reporters even had a chance to ask (because of course we were going to) Jazz head coach Will Hardy took the liberty of explaining the circumstances.
“I’m gonna steal at least three of your guys’ questions,” Hardy said. “Yes, the first play was designed for Walker to shoot a 3. Yes, he bullied me into it at All-Star Weekend when he made that 3 in the Skills Competition. And yes, I’m very happy that it went in — even though I may have created a monster.”
Though according to Kessler, there wasn’t much bullying that needed to be done. After he made a 3-pointer during the All-Star Skills Competition, he went up to his coach and asked if he’d seen it. Hardy told him that he had, and said that the first play after the All-Star break would be a 3 for Kessler.
Kessler thought Hardy was joking. He laughed it off and forgot about it.
But then at shootaround on Thursday morning, they walked through the first play of the night and Kessler was pretty shocked that it was actually going to happen.
But he’s actually pretty confident as a shooter.
“The first conversation I ever had with him when I got here this summer, I asked him if he liked to roll or pop,” Talen Horton-Tucker said. “He said pop.”
The Jazz just might have a budding stretch-five on their hands.