Jazz Drop Game To Celtics, Fail To Make Up Playoff Ground

Mar 31, 2023, 8:57 PM

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Jazz fell to the Boston Celtics 122-114 and were unable to make up ground in the Western Conference Playoff race.

The Jazz were led by Talen Horton-Tucker who scored 26 points, including 16 in the fourth as they were once again without Lauri Markkanen, Jordan Clarkson, and Collin Sexton in the lineup.

Jayson Tatum scored 39 points to lead the Celtics who moved within 1.5 games of the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

Kessler Records Another Big Night Vs. Celtics

It’s become second nature, but Walker Kessler had another big game scoring 20 points, 10 points, and blocking three blocks on the road in Boston.

The Celtics were playing without their two best centers in Al Horford and Robert Williams, but the Jazz big men abused veterans Blake Griffin, Mike Muscala, and Luke Kornet.

The three Boston centers managed just six points on 1-8 shooting while Kessler knocked down 10-13 attempts.

The Jazz rookie lived at the rim throughout the night converting five dunks, but even flashed his developing jump shot stepping out to 20 feet with ease late in the second quarter.

Coach Will Hardy has repeatedly stated that the team wants Kessler to focus on his proverbial fastball i.e. scoring at the rim and blocking shots, but has clearly allowed the center to extend his range in recent outings.

Kessler has rapidly developed into one of the most consistent true centers in the NBA averaging 11.8 points, 10.6 rebounds, and 3.0 blocks since moving into the starting lineup in early January.

But, over his last four games, he’s elevated his game to a new level in the absence of the Jazz’s regular starters.

Kessler is averaging 19.5 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 3.2 blocks while shooting 76 percent from the floor over the last week, highlighting his potential as a reliable scoring option in the Jazz rotation as soon as next season.

With Friday’s performance in Boston, Kessler is only the second player in Jazz history to record at least four games of 20 points and 10 rebounds as a rookie, trailing only Karl Malone who did it 13 times.

Jazz Fail To Move Up In Playoff Race

The Jazz had a prime opportunity to make up ground in the Western Conference Playoff race as the Oklahoma City Thunder dropped an unexpected game on the road to the Indiana Pacers, falling to 38-40 on the season.

The Thunder have been playing uninspired basketball of late despite wrapping up one of the easiest stretches of their schedule.

Oklahoma City has now dropped four of its last six games, including losses to the Pacers and the Charlotte Hornets, each of whom ranks among the bottom four teams in the Eastern Conference.

The Thunder’s schedule now gets considerably more difficult over the final four games to close the season.

Oklahoma City will host the Phoenix Suns on Sunday before traveling to face the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday. They then head to Utah for a critical matchup with the Jazz on Thursday, before closing the season at home on Sunday against the Memphis Grizzlies.

If Oklahoma City was to go winless over their final four games of the year, the Jazz would need just two wins in their next five outings to pull into a tie at season’s end.

The 11th-seeded Dallas Mavericks (37-40) were idle on Friday night but will face the Heat in Miami on Saturday owning a one-game lead on the Jazz while sitting just a half-game back of the Thunder for the final spot in the Western Conference Play-In Tournament.

After facing Miami, the Mavericks will travel to face Atlanta on the second night of a back-to-back, before closing their season at home with games against the Sacramento Kings, Chicago Bulls, and San Antonio Spurs.

If the Jazz (36-41) hope to qualify for the Play-In Tournament, they’ll have to win at least two of their final five games to pull even with the Thunder, and will likely have to win three or more to have a realistic chance of finishing in the playoff race in the West.

Currently, the Jazz stand alone with the ninth-worst record in the NBA after the Bulls beat the Hornets on Friday night to move to 37-40 on the season, a full game ahead of the Jazz in the league standings.

Jazz Face Nets On Sunday

The Jazz now turn their attention to the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday as they wrap up their three-game road trip looking for a winning record.

Brookyln sits in the sixth seed in the East at 42-35 and is coming off a strong 124-107 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Friday.

New Nets forward Mikal Bridges scored 42 points in the win on 16-24 shooting including 5-8 from the three-point line.

Bridges has now scored in double-digits in 21 of his 22 appearances with the Suns since being traded in February, including 10 games of at least 30 points and three games with at least 40.

Former Jazzman Royce O’Neale is averaging a career-high 8.9 points while shooting 39 percent from the three-point line but has seen his numbers dip since the Nets moved on from Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving at the trade deadline.

O’Neale is averaging 7.8 points while shooting 38 percent from three over his last 19 games and has been relegated to a bench role after starting the first 52 games of the season.

After losing five straight games in mid-March, the Nets have won three of their last four to give themselves a small cushion for the sixth-and-final guaranteed playoff spot in the East over the Heat.

Jazz Next Broadcast

The Utah Jazz and Brooklyn Nets will tip off at 1:30 pm MT on Sunday. 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 Drop Game To Celtics, Fail To Make Up Playoff Ground