The Triple Team: Jazz get an overtime win over Pelicans with a brilliant clutch performance

Clarkson, Markkanen, Conley deliver as Utah beats New Orleans again.

New Orleans Pelicans guard CJ McCollum (3) and Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen (23) battle for position under the boards during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 132-129 win over the New Orleans Pelicans from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. The Jazz are a clutch team now?

Three minutes left, Jazz are down five, and look pretty likely to lose this game. Then they turned it around in regulation with super clutch baskets, played well enough in overtime to lead throughout, and beat the Pelicans for the third time, who came into the week as the Western Conference’s No. 1 team.

I’m going to start here with Mike Conley’s impact on this game. After Nickeil Alexander-Walker had turned the game around with his defensive effort at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Jazz’s offense had significantly stalled. Then, Conley comes in and:

• Assists Lauri Markkanen on a dunk

• “Assists” Markkanen leading to two free throws

• Assists Jordan Clarkson on a game-tying three

• Assists Markkanen on a the three to put them up 3 with 30 seconds left

• Makes two free throws — and it turned out the Jazz needed both

Putting Conley in “unlocks” Markkanen to some degree, I think. The biggest play he made was this one, when Clarkson loses the ball in the backcourt, but Conley runs around to give him an option, immediately drives to take advantage, and finds Markkanen open.

Other than that play, the thing that the Jazz did consistently on offense was tried to attack Zion Williamson. There’s no doubt that Williamson has significantly improved on the defensive end, but down the stretch, the Jazz got a good amount of points by forcing a switch, then having Conley or Clarkson attack.

The play is really made by Olynyk’s mid-paint screen.

But finding mismatches and attacking them quickly was the kind of stuff that the Jazz weren’t doing with Collin Sexton, Talen Horton-Tucker, or Nickeil Alexander-Walker. I think Conley produces a kind of clarity for the offense, a thought of “We need to get this offensive guy attacking this defensive guy from this spot on the court.” They did that tonight, and won as a result.

2. Defense in the clutch

Also key: the Jazz played really good defense down the stretch, too, limiting the Pelicans to just six overtime points. C.J. McCollum and Williamson had had good games to that point, but the Jazz made their life relatively tough in the game’s final eight minutes or so.

Again, I think the biggest thing here was a rotational decision: Walker Kessler played essentially the final 17 minutes of the game, because he did such a good job defending and rebounding.

I present to you the Walker Kessler clutch time defensive highlight reel:

That’s so good. So good. Send that highlight reel to everyone you know — on social media or not. If you have to create a VHS or DVD to get it to someone who doesn’t have the internet, get it done.

I mean, give Kelly Olynyk credit sometimes for funneling Williamson and company to Kessler — but that’s nearly all Kessler just being both long as it gets and extremely responsible in not picking up his sixth foul. Legitimately, it’s Rudy Gobert-esque. I’ve been asking for Kessler to finish more games, and he certainly delivered tonight.

With Kessler down there, the Jazz didn’t need to help as much off of the Pelicans shooters, which meant less good options for McCollum — he finished the game’s final eight minutes 0-3 from the field with a turnover.

I’ve talked to Jazz personnel about this: they know that, sooner rather than later, Kessler’s going to be a starter on this team. He makes too much of an impact to keep him off the floor. They’re limiting his minutes now, partially due to the foul trouble, partially because he’s not a very good screener yet, and partially because he’s not great at perimeter defense.

But as he shows development in those things, the Jazz are going to give him more and more of a leash, because his outstanding skill is just a game changer. What an acquisition.

3. The Markkanen game-winner, reviewed

Here’s the Markkanen game-winning play that was reviewed and reversed.

First of all, love the simplicity of this play by Hardy. Two seconds left means that you’re probably not going to get a good jump shot off. You know the Pelicans aren’t the longest team. Why not throw the ball up to Markkanen, your best player at seven feet with great hands, and see what he can do? More teams have been going to these kind of spread/empty sets at the end of games, and you can see why.

Second, Markkanen said after the game that he kind of regretted going for the tip shot there — instead, he wished he would have caught the ball and done a quick post move to try to lay it in around or over Nance. But I don’t know... Nance actually doesn’t leave his feet for the block until the ball is out of Markkanen’s hands. And Markkanen also said he really felt the shot was going in, if it weren’t for Nance’s block.

Third, what a block it was. A game-saving play to get it at the apex, my goodness.

Fourth, I thought the officials refereed this situation brilliantly. I’m a frequent referee criticizer, but this is exactly what I want from the officials in this play: to call it a goaltend so that it can be reviewed in slo-mo by the league office. Goaltends are so impossible to call in real time, and this one is so close that it especially needs video evidence. And watching the video frame by frame, I don’t see one frame where the ball drops even a single pixel before Nance gets his hand on it.

Some fans told me that they felt the video evidence was inconclusive, and so thought the call on the floor should have stood. In that particular instance, though, where I felt the officials made the goaltending call just to make sure it could be reviewed, I don’t want that previous decision to impact the end result. In the end, in review, I want the outcome to be the one that was more likely to be correct — and in this example, I think the video points to “clean block” over goaltend.

Regardless, what an exciting game — yet another one in this terrific Jazz season.

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