MEMPHIS (ABC4 Sports) – Shorthanded and with the All-Star break looming, the Utah Jazz mounted a furious comeback at Memphis Wednesday night, only to come up just short.
Jaren Jackson had 26 points, nine rebounds and four blocks and the Grizzlies beat the Jazz 117-111 on Wednesday night in the last game for both teams before the break.
Desmond Bane scored 24 points and Ja Morant had 20 points — on 8-of-26 shooting — and nine assists. Jackson also had five steals.
Kelly Olynyk led the Jazz with 28 points and 14 rebounds, and Jordan Clarkson had 20 points, nine rebounds and six assists.
Utah, which trailed by 24 in the first half, cut the Memphis lead to 111-110 when Ochai Agbaji (17 points) scored on a dunk with 1:28 left. But Morant scored the next three points for Memphis and the Grizzlies held on for their second straight victory.
“I thought that our team maintained composure, focused on the things that we can control, and we ended up coming back,” said Jazz head coach Will Hardy. “Obviously it’s hard to get over the hump when you start behind by 24. But I think if our team plays with that competitiveness and if they play that together for the rest of the year, we and our fans will be very proud of this team.”
Utah scoring leader Lauri Markkanen was out with right knee soreness. Then, four minutes into the game, guard Collin Sexton went out with a left hamstring injury and did not return. That left the Jazz short-handed and relying on their reserves. Talen Horton-Tucker led the Utah bench, scoring 15 points, while grabbing seven rebounds and handing out an equal number of assists.
Memphis benefitted from poor ball protection by the Jazz in the first half. Fifteen first-half turnovers by Utah resulted in 26 Grizzlies points. Jackson already had 16 points, cashing in on four 3-pointers, while recording three blocks and four steals in the first half.
Utah outscored Memphis 33-25 in third quarter, cutting the lead to 88-80 entering the fourth.
“You see everybody’s energy and how they played tonight?” Clarkson said. “Nobody ever gave up throughout the whole game. We had turnovers and missed shots early.”
But Clarkson noted that the youthful energy of the Jazz along with new teammates helped them overcome early problems in the game while missing key players.
“One shot away, two plays away from winning the game,” Clarkson said.
Juan Toscano-Anderson made his debut with the Jazz after he was traded from the Lakers at the deadline. He finished with seven points.
Olynyk was 4 of 4 from 3-point range in the Jazz win over Indiana but missed all three 3-pointers in the first half. He finished 3 of 7 from outside the arc. In addition to Markkanen, reserve F Rudy Gay was out with non-COVID illness.
The Jazz entered the night in 10th place in the Western Conference, holding onto the last play-in spot a mere half-game ahead of Portland and Oklahoma City. Utah coach Will Hardy said there has to be a balance to watching the logjam.
“It can be daunting when you look at the standing,” Hardy said. “How tight everything is. Then you start trying to do math in your head about what you may have to do.” Then he added: “I’d be lying if I said we don’t look at the standings. You do.”
The Jazz are now off until February 23rd when they host Oklahoma City.