Walker Kessler Sparks Jazz In Win Over Pelicans

Nov 25, 2023, 11:21 PM | Updated: Nov 27, 2023, 11:55 am

SALT LAKE CITY – The shorthanded Utah Jazz took advantage of a tired New Orleans Pelicans squad earning a much-needed 105-100 win.

The Jazz were playing without leading scorers Lauri Markkanen and Jordan Clarkson, but welcomed back Walker Kessler who recorded an 11-point, 11-rebound double-double.

Collin Sexton led the Jazz with 16 points.

The Pelicans were missing Zion Williamson on the second night of a back-to-back and were led by Brandon Ingram’s 26 points.

A Scheduled Win The Jazz Didn’t Let Slip Away

On paper, the Jazz could have marked this game down as a win before the season started, having a rest advantage and playing at home, while the Pelicans were flying into Utah to play their second game in under 24 hours after facing a talented Los Angeles Clippers team late Friday night.

But, through the first 24 minutes, a win looked like the least likely outcome.

The Jazz shot just 34 percent in the first half including 20 percent from three.

After coach Will Hardy made an emphasis on cutting down turnovers in previous losses, the Jazz committed 15 giveaways in the first two quarters.

Even after improved play in the third quarter, the Jazz still found themselves trailing 77-68 heading into the final 12 minutes.

But, with the cards stacked against the Pelicans, the game finally turned in the Jazz’s favor.

The Jazz opened the quarter on a 14-5 run to tie the game with 8:17 left to play. On the next possession, Kelly Olynyk hit a three to give the Jazz their first lead since the opening quarter, then after trading baskets with Ingram, the Jazz took the lead for good on of a Sexton three-pointer with 3:52 left to play.

Despite a strong first three quarters, the Pelicans simply ran out of gas in the fourth, getting outscored 37-23 over the final 12 minutes, while committing five turnovers, and allowing the Jazz to shoot 65 percent from the floor and 60 percent from three.

With the Jazz desperately needing a victory, the NBA schedule-makers gift-wrapped them a win, and they did exactly what they needed to not to give it away.

Walker Kessler Looks Good In His Return

Walker Kessler returned to the Jazz lineup after missing the last seven games with a left elbow injury and provided an important spark in the fourth quarter.

After shooting just 1-6 through the first three quarters, Kessler’s return was off to a rocky start, but with the Pelicans bigs running on empty early in the fourth, the Jazz’s second-year center found his rhythm.

“I was kind of trying to force it too much,” Kessler said of his early struggles. “I really just had to let the game the game come my way, and my teammates found me.”

Kessler scored nine points on 4-4 shooting in the opening 3:18 of the fourth quarter and helped serve as the catalyst for the Jazz’s late run.

“We definitely needed that lift and I thought Walker played overall a pretty good game tonight considering he has been out for as long as he has,” Jazz coach Will Hardy said.

Kessler’s 21 minutes were the second-fewest of any player on the roster, but his defense near the rim was felt in his limited time on the floor.

The Auburn product blocked two shots and was a noticeable deterrent to Pelicans guards.

“You can just see the presence out there that he brings,” Sexton said. “[The Pelicans were] pretty much second-guessing about going in there to shoot layups.”

The Jazz’s 99.0 defensive rating was tied for their best of the season, a point of emphasis for the coaching staff after the game.

“This is for sure the first game this year that we’ve won because of our defense,” Hardy said.

Latest On Lauri Markkanen’s Injury

Markkanen was ruled out of Saturday’s game with a left hamstring injury shortly before tip-off.

Prior to the game, Hardy discussed the situation, without offering a timeline on the All-Star’s return.

“Hamstrings and calves are injuries that can go on for a long time, especially if you push it too much early,” Hardy said.

With Clarkson also missing the game the Jazz started Kris Dunn and Simone Fontecchio who combined for 18 points, five rebounds, and two assists in 44 minutes but don’t offer the Jazz the same offensive identity they get on a nightly basis from their two leading scorers.

“I think Lowry wants to play. I think we felt like it was in his best interest and our best interest to hold him out tonight in the hopes that this resolves itself far quicker than if he warriored through tonight,” Hardy added.

Jazz Nightly Awards:

The “Shaquille O’Neal They Go In When It Matters” Award:

Goes to Keyonte George who has a knack for knocking down big shots in the most important moments of games, despite how he’s played earlier in the year.

Shaq was a notoriously poor free-throw shooter but has always combated naysayers about his career 52-percent success rate by saying they went in when it mattered.

Early in his career, George is showing he makes them when it counts.

Despite shooting 35 percent from the floor and 30 percent from three through the first 15 games of his career, those numbers climb to 45 percent and 39 percent in fourth quarters.

That pattern was on display again against the Pelicans when after opening the game shooting just 3-12 from the floor, George knocked down his only field goal attempt in the fourth, an important three to give the Jazz a six point lead with 1:55 left in the game, before icing the game at the free-throw line.

George’s poor shooting numbers have been a hindrance this season, but he’s made up for it with strong playmaking and better-than-expected defense.

If he can continue to knock down big shots at key moments, it’ll earn him even more runway as the Jazz’s point guard of the future.

Jazz Next Broadcast

The Jazz will face the Pelicans on Monday at 7 pm MST in Salt Lake City. The game will be televised on 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 onย 97.5 The KSL Sports Zone. Find Ben on Twitter atย @BensHoopsย or on Instagramย @BensHoops.

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