No Mike Conley, no problem?
The Utah Jazz came back from 13 down in the fourth quarter to get a surprising win against the Toronto Raptors 122-116.
Surprising is probably the best way to describe this entire Jazz season. Even after trading 3 of their most important vets, they still manage to play with heart and win games. Down double digits in the 4th, the Jazz found a way to score all game long, not once giving up. It’s a testament to the fight of this team and the character of its players.
Lauri Markkanen, who is going to have an even tougher assignment for the rest of the season, had another impressive night with 23 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists! Having a high-level point guard play all season allowed Markkanen to sometimes get easy buckets. Now, with Conley in Minnesota, he’s going to find himself in more isolation situations and the question is can he score or figure out how to involve his teammates? Tonight, he did just that. The rest of the season will be huge for Markkanen’s development. He’s an all-star now but can he evolve even more as a playmaker? With his height and skill, adding some playmaking would make him an even more lethal offensive weapon.
Walker Kessler bounced back tonight in a monster way. The all-rookie team center was 10/12 from the field for 23 points with 9 rebounds. Surprisingly, no blocks against the team he famously had 7 in their last matchup. His development has been nothing but phenomenal and he’s only going to get better. He puts so much pressure on both ends of the floor and has incredible hands that swallow up the ball. On offense, he puts immense pressure on the defense with his rolling and offensive rebounding. And since he has such good hands he’ll almost always catch the ball at the apex over other rebounders. Tonight he had 4 offensive rebounds. On defense we know what he can do as well. He still needs to get better at not jumping on fakes, but his presence in the paint is becoming infamous now. When the Jazz were going on a run late, the Raptors were forced to take three-point shots, something they’re not great at. Chalk this win up to Walker Kessler as much as anyone.
We also need to give huge praise to Collin Sexton. Sexton’s ferocity has been there all season and he’s never given anything less than his best every night. You can see small bits of improvement in his game night after night. Having this opportunity will allow him to become an even better player as time goes on. I’m not sure if his demeanor spreads to the team, but it’s certainly something you’re glad to have. It’s something this whole team has, it’s a group of guys that will have your back to the end, and that’s the culture the Jazz wanted to build. More than likely, the Jazz are going to lose the majority of their games the rest of the season, but the culture of toughness, grit, and resilience is established. This might be the true beginning of the Jazz’s next chapter, and in this one, you can tell it will go to greater heights than any before.