Even without lead men Lauri Markkanen and Jordan Clarkson, young guns Ochai Agbaji and Walker Kessler took care of business to lead the Utah Jazz on a statement win over the scary comeback attempts of the Sacramento Kings, 128-120.
Agbaji, who spent most of his time in the G League, took a bold step up to deliver the best game of his young career, thus far. He finished with a career-best 27 markers to go with five boards and three assists.
His 27-point output was highly efficient, shooting 8-for-14 from the field and draining six threes out of 10 attempts.
Meanwhile, the towering big man in Kessler didn’t fail to anchor his fellow Jazzmen in the middle, finishing with 10 points, eight boards, and five huge blocks.
Kessler’s rim protection was the x-factor on how Utah managed to outlast Sacramento. The promising center answered the challenging call of coach Will Hardy in defending big Domantas Sabonis, as he held the Lithuanian star to a passive 11 points in 4-of-10 shooting including a rejected layup in crunch time.
“Walker was awesome,” Hardy said, per Sarah Todd of Deseret News. “Sabonis is one of the best bigs in the league. He’s incredibly physical, he does such a good job of getting to your body early … I thought Walker did a good job of bracing for that first bump and then was able to use his length late. Five blocks and there’s probably eight more shots in there that he altered to a point where you can almost count them as a block.”
Trustworthy vet Kelly Olynyk helped with his 19 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists. Late-season signee Kris Dunn was also spectacular with his 18 points and 10 assists, while Udoka Azubuike contributed 13 markers.
Three more players chipped in double-digit scoring for the Jazz, as they shot a collective 52.3 percent from the field.
Facing a giant contender in a Kings team that was sitting at the top two of the Western Conference, the Jazz knocked and sent them back to the third seed by utilizing a collective effort.
“The thing I continue to be most proud of with this team is that every night it just seems like different people continue to step up and continue to use the opportunities that are given to them to try to contribute to winning,” Hardy said. “I love this team.”
Utah (35-36) will look to maintain their place at the West’s Play-in spot as they face the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday.