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'I had two hands on the ball': Jazz lament missed late rebound in loss to Kings

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SALT LAKE CITY — Lauri Markkanen couldn't help but wish he had done better on the final possessions.

He wished he wouldn't have lost the ball on his drive to the rim that was setting up for a good look over a shorter defender, or that he would have made the tough fadeaway jumper in the waning seconds that would have surely given Utah a win.

But there was another play that weighed more heavily on his mind in the immediate aftermath of Sacramento's 126-125 win over the Jazz on Friday at Golden 1 Center.

"You always remember the last shot, but it's the rebound that we should have gotten, especially when I had two hands on the ball," Markkanen said.

The missed rebound with 14 seconds left, the one that slipped out of Markkanen's hands was the most haunting play for the Jazz's rising star. Despite shooting 25% from 3-point range and being down 8 points with three minutes remaining, the Jazz still found themselves in a position to win. More than that, they found themselves in the lead.

The Jazz had gone on a 13-2 run, highlighted by back-to-back buckets by Markkanen, that gave Utah a 3-point lead with 36 seconds remaining. Even after a quick De'Aaron Fox layup and a missed free throw from Mike Conley, who had 17 points and eight assists, the Jazz just needed one stop to get a win.

Utah forced a miss— actually, it forced two — it just couldn't get the rebound.

Fox missed a running jumper from the elbow that Domantas Sabonis tipped out for the Sacramento offensive board. Then Fox drove in for a short floater that bounced off the rim. That's when Markkanen jumped up and grabbed the ball with both hands, only for Fox to pop it loose.

The ball bounced back to the Kings and eventually into the hands of Kevin Huerter, who buried a 3-pointer to give Sacramento the lead with 9.2 seconds left. It was a backbreaking sequence. The Jazz were so close to securing a victory, and then suddenly they needed a hero.

"I think De'Aaron got his hand in there or something, but I had the two hands on the ball and somehow lost it in," Markkanen said. "Obviously big, big play by Huerter after that."

It was a game defined by big plays and big shots, as both teams traded blows down the stretch. Markkanen had 36 points, and Sabonis answered with 28 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. Jordan Clarkson had 25 points and nine assists, while Huerter dropped 30 points on 6-for-10 shooting from deep. Those shots may have hurt the most considering the Jazz made eight 3-pointers as a team.

It made for some excellent drama down the stretch.

Afterward, Jazz coach Will Hardy said all NBA fans would have loved to watch the final quarter, and Markkanen called the end "fun to be a part of."

"That's why we played basketball," Markkanen said. "Being in the clutch moments and just try and do whatever we can at the end to try to win the game."

In the final moments, the Jazz turned to Markkanen. He scored 11 of his 36 points in the fourth quarter and was 15-of-16 from inside the arc heading into Utah's final possessions.

The Jazz set up a play for him to get free as he moved to the hoop. Initially, it seemed to work with Markkanen dribbling down the lane against a smaller Harrison Barnes, but Fox, once again, got his hands on the ball and knocked it out of bounds.

"I just think coach drew up a play to get me in a good spot," Markkanen said. "I think I had a good look there: shoot over top of Barnes from like eight feet or 10 feet."

Utah had one more chance, but Markkanen's fadeaway jumper was well-defended by Barnes and went long. Markkanen said that he didn't think the angle was there for him to attack the rim and that he felt comfortable with the shot, "but just didn't go my way today."

That's been the case for the Jazz over the last week as they have fallen back to .500 with an 0-3 road trip. A few fortunate bounces could have turned a winless trip into a 3-0 one, but the same problems followed the Jazz throughout all three contests — namely, poor 3-point shooting, defensive rebounding issues, and some badly-time missed free throws.

"A couple things go differently and we're 3-0 on this trip," Markkanen said. "It sucks, but it's part of the league."

So what was Hardy's message after another close defeat?

"It's healthy that they're upset right now that we lost, because they poured a lot of energy and emotion into that game," he said. "I think it's about maintaining our approach. It's about maintaining our togetherness as a group; understanding that in the NBA, it's really hard to win. … I told them that it's not just those last two plays that are the reason that we didn't win the game."

Maybe not, but moments after the game, they sure loomed the largest.

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