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ATLANTA — It took the Utah Jazz nearly nine minutes to get a single defensive rebound to start the second half. They were on the wrong end of a 28-8 run in the third quarter, and they were forced to play a rookie center in hopes of slowing the tide.
These aren’t things usually said about the team that wins a game.
But here we are once again.
Utah recovered from arguably its worst quarter of the season to top the Atlanta Hawks 125-119 Wednesday at State Farm Arena.
Lauri Markkanen had 32 points and eight rebounds, and Jordan Clarkson added 23 points and five assists to help the Jazz win their fourth-straight game. Utah scored 40 points in the fourth quarter to overcome what had been a 10-point Atlanta lead.
The Jazz were phenomenal to close the game. Malik Beasley hit four 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, Markkanen scored 8 points in the final 5:11, and Mike Conley handed out six of his game-high 13 assists in the closing six minutes. Utah used an 8-0 run late to gain some separation and then kept making play after play to close the game.
“Mike was fantastic organizing us down the stretch,” Jazz coach Will Hardy said. “We went to a couple of different actions and he made a lot of really, really good decisions. There were some big shots made by his teammates.”
That was a stark contrast to how the Jazz started the second half. Due to a hot start by Markkanen, who had 16 points in the first quarter, and some timely shooting, the Jazz had a 9-point lead at halftime.
That didn’t last long.
After a Markkanen 3-pointer early in the third quarter, the Jazz led by 68-58. That’s when the Hawks started attacking the rim with no hesitation, and the Jazz didn’t have an answer. Soon enough, Utah’s double-digit advantage had turned into a double-digit deficit.
Dejounte Murray and Trae Young led a 36-point third quarter, which included a 28-8 run, by the Hawks to wrestle control of the game from the Jazz.
“The third quarter was,” Hardy began before his voice trailed off as he searched for the most diplomatic way of finishing his thought, “not very good.”
That’s putting it nicely. Just about everything went wrong.
The Hawks scored on 16 of their first 17 possessions. How? The Jazz lost cutters, left shooters open, and failed to box out. Even when the Hawks did miss, they almost always got their hands on the ball. Atlanta had seven offensive rebounds in the quarter; and Utah had just three defensive ones.
“We didn’t get stops,” Markkanen said. “(The Hawks) came out firing in the third and we weren’t quite ready for that.”
So the Jazz put in their entire second unit, which included Walker Kessler, the rookie from Atlanta, in hopes it would help turn the tide.
It ended up being a pretty special homecoming for Kessler.
He had 12 points on 6-of-6 shooting, five rebounds and three blocks. Fine numbers, but more importantly was his overall impact on the team. That was highlighted by a play early late in the third quarter when he went up and blocked Justin Holiday at the rim, sprinted down the court and caught an alley-oop on the other end.
When he checked in late in the third quarter, the Jazz were down by 10; when he exited with 5:59 remaining, Utah had a 3-point lead.
That run saved the game for Utah.
“I thought the second group came in and really did a great job of getting some stops and getting out and running, moving the ball. And it allowed us to stay in the game,” Hardy said.
Then Conley, Markkanen, Beasley and Co. brought the Jazz home.
“We’ve talked a bunch as a team that every game, especially road games is going to present you with moments that are not going your way,” Hardy said. “The other team goes on a run and the crowd gets into the game and you have to find a way to recenter yourself and stick together.”
The Jazz, once again, found a way to do just that.