SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – No matter who is out, the Utah Jazz continue to play inspired basketball, even they start three rookies.
Rookie Ochai Agbaji poured in a career-high 27 points, hitting six three-pointers, to lead eight Jazz players in double figures in a 128-120 victory over the Sacramento Kings.
With its fourth victory in its last five games, Utah (35-36) moves back into the 10th seed in the Western Conference with 11 games left in the regular season.
The Jazz were without its top three scorers in All-Star forward Lauri Markkanen (back), as well as Jordan Clarkson (finger) and Collin Sexton (hamstring), but still built a 25-point lead in the first half on the Kings.
Sacramento rallied to take the lead in the fourth quarter, but the Jazz closed the game on a 15-5 run to pull away for the win.
Kelly Olynyk had 19 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists for the Jazz. Kris Dunn added 18 points and a season-high 10 assists. Udoka Azubuike chipped in with a career-high 13 points and a season-best eight rebounds.
The Jazz shot 52% from the field, and made 16 three-pointers in the game.
Agbaji’s offensive outburst underscored the progress he’s made from earlier in his rookie season when he had stints in the G-League.
“I kind of saw that as my own race, starting there,” Agbaji said. “My expectations were a little bit different coming in, but starting there, I had to be fine with it, had to go with it, had to give it my all and have a positive attitude while I was doing it.”
De’Aaron Fox had 37 points and seven assists to lead Sacramento. Keegan Murray added 22 points for the Kings. Fox and Murray combined to make 12 3-pointers.
Harrison Barnes scored 16 for Sacramento, and Malik Monk added 15.
Olynyk put the Jazz ahead for good on a 3-pointer with 1:34 left to break a 118-all tie. Dunn, Agbaji, Walker Kessler and Olynyk combined to make seven free throws in the final minute to seal the victory.
Sacramento trailed by double digits throughout the first half before erasing the deficit during the third quarter. Fox and Murray led the charge, combining for 33 points in the period.
Fox scored five baskets to fuel a 19-5 run that cut Utah’s lead to 76-74 midway through the quarter. The Kings tied it three times on 3-pointers from Monk, Murray and Fox but did not go in front until early in the fourth quarter.
Chimezie Metu completed a 3-point play to give Sacramento its first lead at 100-98 with 9:15 remaining.
“You can’t trick a trick defense,” Kings coach Mike Brown said. “You’ve just got to just run your stuff. If you run your stuff, somebody’s going to get an open shot.”
The Jazz shot 60% from the field and made five 3-pointers to build a 40-19 lead by the end of the period. Utah showed offensive balance while coasting to a double-digit advantage. Five players scored two or more baskets in the quarter. Olynyk and Agbaji led the way with three apiece.
“We lost this game in the first quarter,” Fox said. “We shot ourselves in the foot. Obviously we fought back, but you don’t want to be in that type of position.”
Utah did not cool down much through the second quarter. The Jazz extended their lead to 24 before halftime, going up 59-35 when Olynyk capped a 7-0 run with a corner 3.
“We were able to use our pace. It’s been a huge emphasis for us since the trade deadline to try to play faster,” Jazz coach Will Hardy said. “We fed off our defense. We did a good job of getting stops and it allowed us to get out and run.”
Kessler blocked five shots for the 10th time this season. None were more clutch than his final swat on a layup attempt by Domantas Sabonis with 1:20 remaining that would have cut the deficit to one. Kessler secured the rebound, and the Kings never got a chance to draw closer.
“A lot of teams want to attack inside in the last moments just because you’re trying to foul,” Kessler said. “I happened to be there. I liked my chances to block the shot.”
Utah next hosts Portland Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m.