Kessler Shines As Starter, But Shorthanded Jazz Fall To Sixers

Jan 14, 2023, 10:26 PM
Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid shoots over Utah Jazz big man Walker Kessler...
Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid shoots over Utah Jazz big man Walker Kessler (Credit: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)
(Credit: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Jazz were without Lauri Markkanen, Kelly Olynyk, and Collin Sexton, but narrowly lost to the Philadelphia 76ers 118-117.

Jordan Clarkson scored 38 points in one of his best outings of the year while Talen Horton-Tucker offered a season-high 20 point, six rebound performance off the bench.

Ultimately, James Harden and Joel Embiid’s 61 combined points were too much for the Jazz who went winless in their two-game season series with the 76ers.

Jazz Comeback Falls Short Against Philadelphia

The 76ers took a 41-21 lead with 46 seconds left to play in the first quarter, marking the Jazz’s biggest deficit in the opening 12 minutes of a game this season.

Embiid scored 13 first quarter points to help Philly build their lead as the Jazz struggled to match the superstar center’s physicality.

However, after a rough opening frame, the Jazz steadily erased the 76ers’ lead.

After trailing by 17 at the end of one, the deficit was down to 10 at the break, and three heading into the fourth quarter.

The Jazz finally overtook Philly on a Walker Kessler tip-in with 33 seconds left to play, but the 76ers closed the game with buckets from James Harden and Embiid, while Clarkson missed a desperation three as time expired.

“I think our defensive physicality as the game went on was terrific,” Will Hardy said. “I think our team showed a lot of fight again, as we always do. We executed some things really well as the game went on and ultimately we were one stop short at the end.”

Clarkson had arguably his best game of the season carrying the offensive without Markkanen on the floor. The former Sixth Man of the Year is averaging 31 points per game over the last three outings to go with nine rebounds per contest.

Kessler also played one of his better games forced to start against Embiid, one of the league’s top two big men.

“His physicality in the first quarter was not good at all and he made a great adjustment as the game went on,” Hardy said of Kessler. “He started to be a little more physical with Embiid, he started making his catches tougher, he started making it harder for him to screen and he used his length well.”

Kessler finished with 15 points, 12 rebounds, and two blocks on a perfect 7-7 from the floor.

With the number of injuries the Jazz have faced in recent weeks and the continued adjustments to the rotation, keep an eye on whether Kessler returns to the team bench when the roster returns to health, or if he stays in the starting lineup.

As a starter, Kessler is averaging 10.0 points and 9.2 rebounds and providing the Jazz with a legitimate rim protector.

Before starting against the 76ers due to the number of injuries to key rotation players, Jarred Vanderbilt had moved to the bench for the Jazz last two games. Don’t be surprised if the fifth-year forward becomes a fixture in the second unit as Kessler assumes the starting center spot for the rest of the season.

Mitchell, Gobert Matchup Disappoints

After the Jazz traded Rudy Gobert to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Donovan Mitchell to the Cleveland Cavaliers, fans have been waiting to see the two former stars would perform when they faced off against one another.

Unfortunately, the first two opportunities have resulted in disappointment.

In their November 13 meeting, Mitchell missed the game with an ankle injury as the Timberwolves escaped with a 129-124 victory.

In the two team’s second and final meeting (barring a matchup in the Finals) fans hoping to see the two former teammates face off were once again left wanting.

Mitchell almost didn’t suit up for the game due to an illness but was inserted into the lineup shortly before tipoff.

The two players exchanged a quick hello before the game, but that was nearly the last time they were seen together on the court.

The guard, who is in the midst of a career year, struggled with 14 points on 5-16 shooting.

Gobert, meanwhile, opened the game with six points and four rebounds in 13 first half minutes but was ruled out for the remainder of the game at half time with a groin strain.

Ultimately, the Timberwolves beat Cleveland 110-102 and swept the two-game season series.

Jazz Have Early Tip-Off On MLK Jr. Day

The Jazz now travel to Minnesota to face the Timberwolves after their win over the Cavaliers.

The Timberwolves have been one of the hottest teams in the NBA to start the new year after a difficult close to December.

Minnesota had lost six straight to close the month but have responded by winning six of their last seven to open the year.

Gobert had been a critical piece in the team’s sudden success averaging 14.7 points and 12.3 rebounds during the stretch.

The former Jazz center’s status for the game will be worth watching after suffering a groin injury against the Cavaliers.

The game could have playoff implications as the Jazz entered the contest trailing the Timberwolves by one game in the Western Conference standings. Minnesota owned the sixth seed in the West after Saturday’s win, but was tied with the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Clippers in the standings.

The Jazz and Timberwolves have split their first two games of the season with each team winning on the other’s home floor.

The teams last met on December 9 in a 118-108 Timberwolves victory. The game ended in controversy after Gobert’s last-second layup with the game already in hand rubbed some players on the Jazz the wrong way.

Jazz Next Broadcast

The Jazz and Timberwolves will tip off at 2 pm MT on Monday in Minnesota. 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.

Ben Anderson is the KSL Sports insider for the Utah Jazz and the co-host of Jake and Ben from 10-12p with Jake Scott on 97.5 The KSL Sports Zone. Find Ben on Twitter at @BensHoops or on Instagram @BensHoops.

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Kessler Shines As Starter, But Shorthanded Jazz Fall To Sixers