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SALT LAKE CITY — Collin Sexton was antsy.
It had been two weeks since he last played a game after he had sat out seven games as he nursed a strained hamstring. It's hard to keep a player known for relentless energy and enthusiastic celebrations still for that long.
So, naturally, when he found out he was good to make his return, he could hardly contain his excitement.
And, naturally, when he finally got back out on the court, he proved to be just what the Jazz needed on a chilly night in Salt Lake City. There were a lot of "one of 82" vibes on Thursday at Vivint Arena. Utah had just got back from a road trip, and it was the last game before Christmas. It wasn't much of a surprise; there wasn't a ton of energy to start the game.
Sexton helped change that.
The reserve guard helped rescue the Jazz from a sleepy first half in Utah's 120-112 win over Washington Thursday.
"Yeah, really a tale of two halves in terms of our defensive intensity, physicality and communication," Jazz coach Will Hardy said. "I thought our defense was very poor in the first half."
That was putting it lightly. Utah gave up 66 points in the first half to one of the worst offensive teams in the league. So, not great. The urgency and effort weren't there.
Sexton had already come out like he was shot out of a cannon on the offensive end in the first half and scored 11 points in the third quarter on 4-of-5 shooting. He brought that same energy to the defensive end in the second half — and that changed the game.
"I thought Colin, his energy, was infectious getting into Bradley Beal — albeit on a couple plays when he got called for fouls," Hardy said. "I think he kind of stirred the game up some."
The Washington star finished with 30 points on the night, but it took some tough shots to get there.
"Yeah, that's my guy, so pretty much every time we play each other we are going to battle," Sexton said with a smile. "... Tonight, he knew it, he definitely knew it. He got some good buckets, but as long as I make it tough."
Sexton's effort seemed to rub off on the team. That or a talking to at halftime. Regardless, in the second half, the team no longer looked lethargic.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker jumped in and continued the physicality against Beal. Malik Beasley jumped into passing lanes and finished with four steals. Instead of scoring at will on transition plays, the Wizards were faced with some resistance.
The Jazz followed Sexton's lead, and soon Utah pulled away.
After sleepwalking through the first two quarters, Utah woke up. The Jazz allowed just 46 points in the second half as they blew open the game in the fourth quarter.
"We racked up the physicality a little bit," Lauri Markkanen said. "They were kind of getting whatever they wanted in the first half and we kind of stepped up. We were a little bit more physical and made them miss rather than just hope that they miss. So it was a better second half for sure."
Beasley led the team with 25 points, Jordan Clarkson added 23 points, and Markkenen finished with 21 in the win.
As for Sexton, he finished with 18 points on 6-of-7 shooting in just 17 minutes.
"We knew the energy that he's going to bring and he's gonna fire everybody else up as well," Markkanen said.
That was just what he did at the end of the third quarter. Sexton beat the third-quarter buzzer with a 3-pointer that electrified the Utah bench and the Vivint Arena crowd. It also proved to be a major turning point in the game. That shot broke a 90-90 tie; it also kickstarted an 11-0 run that proved to be the catalyst to Utah's win.
For Sexton, it was a nice welcome back after he was forced to miss his return game in Cleveland earlier this week.
"I wanted to be out there so bad, but I needed to make sure to do what was good and also for the team," Sexton said.
On Thursday, he showed just how much good he can bring to the team.
"I definitely feel good. I'll see how I feel tomorrow," he said in reference to his hamstring. "I had to pace myself and knew I didn't have that much time out there, so I had to make the most of it."
And he did just that.