UTAH JAZZ

Clarkson’s 37 Not Enough As Jazz Fall To Suns

Nov 17, 2023, 11:57 PM | Updated: Nov 18, 2023, 9:26 am

Jordan Clarkson #00 of the Utah Jazz celebrates a play during the second half of an NBA In-Season T...

Jordan Clarkson #00 of the Utah Jazz celebrates a play during the second half of an NBA In-Season Tournament game against the Phoenix Suns (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

(Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Jazz dropped to 2-1 in In-Season Tournament Play after their 131-128 loss to the Phoenix Suns at the Delta Center.

Kevin Durant scored 38 points for the Suns, including a critical three-point basket in the final minute to keep the Jazz at bay.

Jordan Clarkson scored 37 to lead the Jazz and has broken the 30-point mark in three of his four outings since Keyonte George joined him in the team’s starting lineup.

Jazz Sit At 2-1 In In-Season Tournament Play

The Jazz’s loss to the Suns was their first in In-Season Tournament play, where they now sit a full game behind the Los Angeles Lakers who improved to 3-0 with a win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night.

The Lakers lead West Group A with an unblemished record, while the Jazz sit in second place with a record of 2-1.

The Suns moved to 1-1 in group play with a loss to the Lakers to open the tournament and a win over the Jazz, while the Trail Blazers are 1-2, and the Memphis Grizzlies have been eliminated with an 0-3 record.

If the Jazz want to keep their In-Season Tournament hopes alive they’ll have to beat the Lakers on Tuesday in Los Angeles, and win the point differential battle to lock up their spot in the round of eight.

There’s an outside chance at a wildcard berth for the Jazz even if they were to fall in Los Angeles and finish group play with a 2-2 record, however, it would require an improbable loss by the Suns.

Phoenix finishes In-Season Tournament play with games against Portland and Memphis, and will likely finish group play with a 3-1 record, which would push the Jazz to third place with a loss to the Lakers, crushing any hopes of advancing

Hardy Praises George’s Defense

Keyonte George made several highlight-reel plays against the Suns, including an unbelievable left-handed scoop pass into the paint to find a slashing Lauri Markkanen for an easy basket.

But one possession that won’t show up on the box score will likely earn him the most kudos from the Jazz coaching staff.

With 2:54 left in the second quarter Devin Booker sprinted up the floor off of a made John Collins basket, and in many situations, he would have an easy layup.

Instead, George got back on defense, found Booker even though he wasn’t his primary defender, and slid his feet to cut off his angle to the rim, ultimately drawing an offensive foul and turnover by the three-time All-Star.

Even before facing the Suns, Hardy was effusive on the improvement from the rookie on the defensive end.

George’s playmaking and clutch shooting are both easily recognizable early in his career, but it was his work on defense that drew the praise of his coach.

“His defense has improved a lot in training camp and in preseason,” Hardy said. “He was not competing at the level that he needed to be on that end of the floor.”

Though there’s no dearth of talent at any position in the NBA currently, the league is particularly well stocked with incredible backcourt performers.

“If you want to be a lead guard or really a guard in general in this league, you’re going to be matched up against premier offensive players all the time and he’s taking that challenge,” Hardy added. 

Be it scheme or personnel, the Jazz were largely undone in recent playoff runs due to poor defense particularly out of the team’s backcourt.

While George still has a ways to go before he reaches his potential on either end, his development on defense would raise the Jazz postseason ceiling if he continues to grow at his current pace.

“The decision-making, the playmaking, the sort of tactical side of the game — he’s shown a pretty quick learning curve and we’ll stay on that,” Hardy said, “but it’s a big transition for a 19-year-old to go to the NBA and to adjust to the physicality of the players on the court and he’s getting better and better.”

Night Awards

The “Atlas, We Have The Whole World On Our Shoulders” Award:

Goes to Kevin Durant and Devin Booker who were unbelievable against the Jazz combining for 62 points, 24 assists, and 13 rebounds in 65 minutes of action.

The other nine players on the Suns combined for 69 points, 11 assists, and 23 rebounds in 175 minutes.

Missing Bradley Beal puts an added onus on Durant and Booker, and not having him for at least the next three weeks is only going to add more weight on their shoulders.

Right now, Durant and Booker are good enough to carry this roster of so-so role players to the finish line in the regular season, but they’ll need far more consistent contributions, plus a healthy Beal if they hope to win in the playoffs.

The “Ominous Foreshadowing Quote” Award:

Goes to Will Hardy who made a somewhat dramatic shift to the Jazz’s offense using far more pick and roll against Phoenix resulting in 75 points in the first half, and 128 for the game.

Hardy said, “We thought it was a good way to attack” the Suns, and based on the Jazz’s 50 percent shooting from the floor and 44 percent from three, he was right.

Jusuf Nurkic had a fine statline scoring 15 points, grabbing seven rebounds, and handing out four assists in 23 minutes, but he’s a liability defensively, and the Jazz abused him.

Again, if the Suns hope to win in the postseason that’s an area of major concern, and not something Beal will help when he returns to the lineup.

Jazz Next Broadcast

The Jazz will again host the Suns on Sunday at 6 pm MST in Salt Lake City. The game will be televised on NBATV and KJZZ, streamed on Jazz+, and can be heard on 97.5 The KSL Sports Zone.

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Ben Anderson is the Utah Jazz insider for KSL Sports 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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Clarkson’s 37 Not Enough As Jazz Fall To Suns