The Triple Team: The Jazz pull out a crazy, chaotic win in nearly impossible fashion against the Warriors

Utah Jazz coach Will Hardy reacts after forward Simone Fontecchio's dunk during late in the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 124-123 win over the Golden State Warriors from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Chaos at the end

What a ridiculous — and ridiculously entertaining — end to a basketball game. We’ll just recap it from the 2 minute mark because I have no idea what else to do.

First, Kelly Olynyk misses a post-up fadeaway with 1:47 left. Then, the ensuing Warriors possession lasts 45 seconds, because the Warriors get four offensive rebounds.

This is actually before offensive rebound number three... Jonathan Kuminga’s screen here is way, way too wide here, and it should have been called an offensive foul. Marc Davis, an official known for swallowing his whistle at the end of games, says play on.

Warriors miss again, and the ball comes out to Poole, this time for a three. Kevon Looney gets the rebound. Note that this is not an “over the back” foul — indeed, no such rule exists in the NBA. Looney can legally grab the ball from above Malik Beasley’s head. It is, however, a shove in the back foul; you can see how much it displaces Beasley. Play on, again.

But Kessler blocks Looney’s putback attempt, and finally, the Jazz get the ball. On the next play, Clarkson drives and makes a really tough shot despite contact. Looney jumps from point A to point B here, so even though he’s vertical, this should be a foul. It’s also not called.

The next Warriors possession was really well done by them. They get the switch, so that their best offensive player (Poole) is on the Jazz’s worst defender (Olynyk). They get the drive-by, Kessler has to come over and help, and his man, Kuminga, cuts for the dunk.

Jazz call timeout, get the ball back. Warriors switch, and Clarkson immediately drives on Kuminga. But honestly, Kuminga’s fouling him the whole drive! Kuminga’s arm bar impacts Clarkson’s quickness and balance right at the free-throw line. Marc Davis, the official closest to the play, again says to play on. Clarkson then throws up a shot, it gets blocked (I haven’t seen a conclusive angle on the block.)

Davis, postgame, will say that Clarkson “initiated the contact to the legal defender Kuminga.” But in my opinion, Kuminga’s not in legal guarding position, at least not in an NBA that has removed hand-checking.

So Clarkson is extremely frustrated after the no-call, and the three no-calls before that, and the no-calls that plagued him last game from Tony Brothers’ crew, and the fact that the NBA fined him $15K afterwards for throwing his headband into the crowd due to an insane hard-line league rule. So yeah, he wraps up Kuminga pretty hard... cause who knows if they’ll actually call the foul the Jazz need?

Is it a Flagrant 2? Davis said it was, “Clarkson’s contact above the shoulder was deemed both unnecessary and excessive.” I don’t think it’s a flagrant 2, just a hard wrapup, but Clarkson’s arm does make contact to Kuminga’s head. I can at least see why it would look bad on review. It seems like down three, with the Warriors going to the line, and keeping the ball afterwards... the Jazz are going to lose this game.

Kuminga makes only one of two free throws... but it’s still Warriors ball. But the Jazz do a great job of trapping on the ball — this is why you don’t foul immediately — and Olynyk steals the ball. But Thompson makes up for it with a block on Simone Fontechhio.

By the way, does Olynyk get fouled by Poole here? I don’t think so... I think it’s gamesmanship by Olynyk. Smart one, though.

Again, Poole makes only one of two free-throws, but it’s enough to make it a two-possession game again with just 13 seconds left.

And then Nickeil Alexander-Walker intervenes. I love this play with all my heart.

He has an open layup, an easy quick two. But Alexander-Walker is smart, and knows that a quick two points in this situation is actually a Quack Two — a basket that analytically actually would reduce the Jazz’s chances of winning, given that there are only seven seconds left and no Jazz timeouts. Imagine had NAW not made this pass; the Jazz would have tied at the end, but gone into overtime with only about a 50/50 chance of winning.

Finally, the Jazz make the game-winning play on the ensuing inbounds. First of all, the Warriors need to stop trapping themselves in the corner like this. But NAW gets the strip, the Jazz get the ensuing loose ball. Beasley and Fontecchio run the fast-break well, Fontecchio gets the dunk. NAW gets one final tip away to seal the win.

By the way, Olynyk absolutely kicks this loose ball here and then tackles Poole to the ground. Who’s the referee on the spot? Marc Davis.

I love that he’s about to call something here and then is like “Nah.” Which was probably the right call on the NAW swipe, but not after that.

Phew. Okay, what have we learned?

1. The Jazz’s late-game practice over the last few days paid off. According to the team’s players, most of what they’ve done in practice is late-game scenario work, and they handled the strategic decisions here really brilliantly. Nickeil Alexander-Walker especially.

2. The Jazz thrive in chaos. If there is some absolute nonsense happening out there on the floor, the Jazz are profiting on it. If the referees decide anarchy is the order of the day, the Jazz will end up on top. They are guerilla warfare artists the likes of which haven’t been seen.

3. Tomorrow’s Last Two Minute report on the missed calls in this game is going to be longer than a CVS receipt. My goodness.

2. Walker Kessler in a starting role

With Lauri Markkanen out for this game due to illness, Will Hardy made not just one, but two changes to his starting lineup. Malik Beasley started for Markkanen, but the Jazz shifted Kelly Olynyk up a position, and then played Kessler as the starting center, demoting Jarred Vanderbilt to a bench role.

And I thought it went pretty well! Honestly, for much of this game, Kessler was the only defensive bright spot, keeping the Jazz somewhat passable defensively despite the lackadaisical efforts of the other four players around him. At one point, he even reminded me of last year’s Rudy Gobert minutes, with all of those iffy perimeter defenders the Jazz had last season.

This is a classic Gobert-esque play:

Oh my goodness, what a play. Olynyk gets cooked, Kessler comes over to help, dissuades that first shot, and even though Kessler is in the air, he somehow recovers while Looney takes exactly one step and blocks the shot. And then, because this is the Jazz, none of his teammates are there to help clean up the rebound, and so the Warriors score anyway.

So what’s keeping Kessler from permanent starter status? I think he only needs to evolve his game just a little bit. Olynyk is just better offensively, even though I think the gulf is wider between Kessler’s defense and Olynyk’s defense, and the Jazz are winning games just on the back of their offense, so it makes some sense to stay with the status quo.

I asked both Walker and Hardy what was one thing Kessler could do to make that jump into being a consistent starter. Hardy said that the biggest thing is that Kessler is a poor screener right now, drawing all sorts of offensive fouls while not doing a whole lot to free up his man. He’s working on it every day in practice, though.

Kessler, meanwhile, said that he wanted to become a more switchable player defensively. I agree with that, but think that matters most in the playoffs — you can win a lot of regular season games by just protecting the rim like Kessler does.

But he’s going to be an everyday starter for this team relatively soon, probably next season. I welcome that day.

3. Simone Fontecchio!

A career-high 18 points for the Italian rookie who turns 27 on Friday — plus the game-winner.

I think he’s a bargain at $3 million per season for the next two years. Every NBA team needs more shooting, and he can just come in and fire threes of all types. Spacing in the corner, one dribble threes around shot contests, coming off of screens, you name it.

But unlike some other shooters, I don’t think he’s a catastrophe at the other aspects of the game. Hardy said in a press conference earlier this year that Fontecchio’s defense doesn’t stand out either way on film, as either good or bad. For a role player, that’s pretty great — he’s not like a Steve Novak-level defensive liability.

He’s also capable of doing some good work driving, if the defense closes out too hard. This is great:

The rebounding and turnovers percentages aren’t great, though. I expect that the turnovers especially will improve as he gets more used to what he can and can’t accomplish in the NBA, but the rebounding is probably just going to be a weakness.

Still, it’s definitely enough to get him consistent NBA playing time, in my opinion. I will note one disappointment: teammates have started calling him “tech” — which is one of the least interesting syllables in his beautiful name. Embrace the fullness of the Italian language, Jazz players!

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