Jazz Beat Spurs, Remain 1.5 Games Back Of Play-In Tournament

Mar 29, 2023, 9:55 PM

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Jazz were down four starters but handled the shorthanded San Antonio Spurs 128-117 to keep pace in the Western Conference Play-In Tournament.

Lauri Markkanen, Jordan Clarkson, Kelly Olynyk, and Collin Sexton were all out against the Spurs but a career-high 41 points from Talen Horton-Tucker carried the Jazz to victory.

San Antonio was also down several key pieces playing without Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, and rookie Jeremy Sochan.

With the win, the Jazz moved to 36-40 on the season.

What To Make Of Horton-Tucker Career High

It seems the more game film we get of Talen Horton-Tucker we get, the less we know what to expect from the mercurial guard.

Horton-Tucker thoroughly dominated the skeleton crew Spurs reaching his 41-point career-high on an efficient 15-25 shooting from the floor and 6-11 from three.

The guard also added five assists and four rebounds in just 29 minutes.

First, let’s discuss the good from Horton-Tucker.

When the fourth-year guard makes a determined effort to get into the paint as he did against San Antonio he becomes an extremely dangerous scorer. His powerful frame and low dribble make him a load for opposing defenses, and his deft touch around the rim allows him to convert difficult finishes in traffic.

Then, when his three-point shot is on, as it was against the Spurs, he’s capable of huge scoring outbursts.

Likely due to his superior size compared to other players at his position, Horton-Tucker can occupy a high usage rate without burning out his motor early in the game.

Carrying an offensive load like Horton-Tucker did against San Antonio is a difficult responsibility, but the Iowa State product didn’t seem burdened by the task.

But how reliable is a game like this when both the Jazz and Spurs were playing without their best players?

It can’t be ignored that Horton-Tucker’s two best games this season have come against San Antonio with Markkanen off the floor entirely, and against the Charlotte Hornets when the All-Star forward shot a season-worst 3-22 from the floor.

We’ve seen huge scoring outbursts from players in late-season games when teams are resting their best players and they don’t always foretell of stardom (think CJ Miles or Grayson Allen).

It’s also worth mentioning that the Spurs and Hornets have two of the four worst records in the NBA, and weren’t putting their best foot forward in either matchup.

Neither of those are Horton-Tucker’s fault, but these types of performances would mean more in games against the league’s top teams, in higher-leverage games.

Additionally, it’s fair to acknowledge that Horton-Tucker’s 6-11 three-point shooting night against San Antonio has been anything but the norm this season. The guard entered the night shooting 27.5 percent from the three-point line, nearly identical to his career average of 27.6.

The 22-year-old has shot better than 30 percent only once during his NBA career, but that came as a rookie when he knocked down 30.8 percent of his attempts when he appeared in only six games.

If Horton-Tucker could become a trustworthy 35 percent three-point shooter it would be easier to believe he could consistently carry a larger offensive load. But that’s a major if for a player who has never shot the ball at that level.

He also continues to battle turnover issues, giving the ball away four times in Wednesday’s win.


So what are we to make of Horton-Tucker?

It’s clear he has a place in the NBA, and if he opts into his $11 million player option next season, the Jazz should feel comfortable having another year to collect data on the guard.

However, the burden falls on Horton-Tucker to show that these types of games aren’t the exception for an otherwise inefficient scorer, but a bright spot from a consistent role player who can abuse smaller perimeter defenders with his ability to get downhill.

For now, assuming Horton-Tucker could fully fill the shoes of Jordan Clarkson if he were to sign elsewhere this summer is a stretch, but he deserves more opportunities to prove he can help a young rebuilding team.

Jazz Win, But Don’t Make Up Play-In Ground

The Jazz snapped their four-game losing streak with Wednesday’s win, but were still unable to make up ground on the Oklahoma City Thunder who own the 10th and final seed in the Western Conference Play-In tournament.

The Thunder fell last night at home to the lowly Hornets, and nearly dropped another surprise game in Oklahoma City against the league-worst Detroit Pistons.

Cory Joseph hit a three-pointer with 14 seconds left to play to give the Pistons a 106-105 lead over the Thunder, but after a late jump ball on the ensuing possession, rookie Jalen Williams scored the game-winning put back off of a Josh Giddey missed runner to secure the victory with 0.5 seconds left to play.

Had the Thunder lost, the Jazz would have sat just a half-game back of OKC for the final seed in the play-in tournament with six games left to play.

Instead, the Thunder sit at 38-39 on the season, two wins ahead of the Jazz with one fewer loss.

The two teams will face off on April 6 in the third-to-final game of the season.

Utah Jazz Next Broadcast

The Utah Jazz and Boston Celtics will tip off at 5:30 pm MT on Friday. The game will be televised on AT&T SportsNet and can be heard on 97.5 The KSL Sports Zone. It can also be streamed on DirecTV Stream and FuboTV.

Download the new & improved KSL Sports app from Utah’s sports leader. You can stream live radio, video and stay up to date on all of your favorite teams.

Ben Anderson is the Utah Jazz insider for KSL Sports and the co-host of Jake and Ben from 10-12p with Jake Scott on 97.5 The KSL Sports Zone. Find Ben on Twitter at @BensHoops or on Instagram @BensHoops.

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Jazz Beat Spurs, Remain 1.5 Games Back Of Play-In Tournament