After Clarkson Ejection, Fontecchio, Jazz Rally To Beat Warriors
SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Jazz overcame a four point deficit with 13 seconds left to play and shocked the Golden State Warriors with a 124-123 victory.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker stole the ball from Jordan Poole, Malik Beasley ran the fast break, and Simone Fontecchio scored the game-winning dunk with one second left to play to earn the Jazz the win.
The play came after Jordan Clarkson was ejected for a flagrant foul penalty two after nearly coming to blows with Warriors forward Jonathan Kuminga.
The Jazz were already playing without Mike Conley (hip) and Lauri Markkanen (illness), while the Warriors were without Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and Andrew Wiggins.
Unlikely Heroes Shine For Jazz
While Clarkson scored 22 points to lead the Jazz, it was his ejection, mixed with the absences from Conley, Markkanen, and Collin Sexton that cleared the way for the incredible finish.
Alexander-Walker returned to the rotation after receiving a DNP-CD in Saturday’s loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, playing the backup guard minutes in place of Talen Horton-Tucker.
The 24-year-old closed the game after Conley watch scratched shortly before game time, missing his ninth straight game with a knee strain.
— KSL Sports (@kslsports) December 8, 2022
Collin Sexton suffered a hamstring injury early in the fourth quarter, which allowed Beasley to finish the game, while Fontecchio entered the game after Clarkson was ejected with 24 seconds left to play.
Here’s how the game ended.
Jordan Poole went to the free throw line for the Warriors, leading by three, with just 13 seconds left to play. Poole split the free throws, giving Golden State a three point lead.
Alexander-Walker drove to the hoop for what looked like an easy layup, but instead kicked the ball out to Beasley for an open three, cutting the Warriors’ lead to one with :06.9 left to play.
Then, Alexander-Walker stripped the ball out of Poole’s hands on the inbound with Beasley scooping the ball up with just four seconds left on the clock, and 60 feet between him and the Jazz basket.
Beasley drove towards the hoop and found a cutting Fontecchio who dunked over Moses Moody to give the Jazz the win.
— NBA (@NBA) December 8, 2022
The Jazz have struggled mightily to close games without Conley on the floor this season and hadn’t been able to find the right combination of players to perform down the stretch.
Though Wednesday night’s close would be nearly impossible to replicate, and the five-man unit of Alexander-Walker, Beasley, Fontecchio, Ochai Abaji, and Kelly Olynyk likely won’t share the floor again this season, they executed the final 13 seconds of the game to perfection and won the Jazz the game.
It’s a testament to the players who saw the floor, and the preparedness of the coaching staff to have the unusual roster ready to play.
Kessler Starts, Plays Well
With Markkanen out of the lineup, Hardy made the biggest adjustment to his starting lineup so far this season.
Walker Kessler opened the game as the Jazz center as Kelly Olynyk shifted to the four. Then, with a non-shooter in Kessler on the floor, Jarred Vanderbilt was moved to the bench in favor of Beasley.
It was the first start of Kessler’s career, and he did not disappoint. The rookie center recorded his third double-double of the season, scoring 10 points, grabbing 12 rebounds, and tying a career-high with five blocks in just 24 minutes.
Walker Kessler's last three games he's averaging 12.7 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 3.3 blocks in just 22 minutes per game.
He's shooting 94 percent from the floor and 75 percent from the free throw line.
In fact, Kessler is 29-31 from the floor IN THE LAST 9 GAMES.
— Ben Anderson (@BensHoops) December 8, 2022
Kessler has been playing at a high level all season but has upped his play over the last nine games. The Auburn product is averaging 7.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks while shooting a staggering 29-31 from the floor.
The 21-year-old has a long way to go learning the fundamentals of the center position, including making his teammates’ lives easier on offense, and improving his overall defensive awareness, but his production is undeniable.
The Jazz frontcourt is crowded with Rudy Gay returning to the lineup against the Warriors, but Kessler should continue to see significant minutes, even when Markkanen rejoins the team.
Collin Sexton’s Hamstring
The Jazz were unable to offer an update on Collin Sexton’s hamstring injury after the game, but it’s worth tracking with Conley’s already limited availability.
Even if Conley returns to the lineup on Friday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves, he’ll almost certainly be on a minutes restriction and would be unlikely to play on Saturday on the second night of a back-to-back.
— KSL Sports (@kslsports) December 8, 2022
If Sexton and Conley are unable to go, Hardy can turn to Clarkson, Beasley, Alexander-Walker, and Horton-Tucker who has been out of the rotation now in two of the Jazz’s last four games.
There’s no easy solution, but it could give both Alexander-Walker and Horton-Tucker ample opportunities to find their rhythm.
Hardy hasn’t been able to play both players in many games so far this season with the Jazz veteran backcourt, but there will likely be open minutes in the coming days.
To Alexander-Walker’s credit, he’s handed the inconsistent minutes well. He scored 11 points, grabbed seven rebounds, and dished out four assists in 29 minutes against Golden State.
- Seven Jazz players scored in double-digits, including the entire starting lineup.
- Fontecchio has played at least 11 minutes in each of the Jazz last four games and scored a career-high 18 points against the Warriors.
- The Warriors are now 2-11 on the road.
- Alexander-Walker has played 28 minutes, and 30 minutes in two meetings against the Warriors this season, but not more than 20 minutes in any other games.
The Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves will tip off at 7 pm MT in Salt Lake City. The game will be televised on AT&T SportsNet and can be heard on 97.5 The KSL Sports Zone. It can also be streamed on DirecTV Stream and FuboTV.
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