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SALT LAKE CITY — Lauri Markkanen clenched his fist in frustration as he walked back down the court in the closing minutes. He had just missed his second of two late 3-point attempts — shots that if he made could have changed the outcome of his return to Chicago.
Markkanen was good on Saturday — really good, even — as he showcased the player he's become to the team that drafted him. Markkanen scored 28 points and dunked the ball eight times on his former team, including an absolute poster over Nikola Vucovic in the third quarter.
But with how the Bulls played in the fourth quarter, Markkanen and the Jazz almost needed to be flawless late in the game. They weren't.
Chicago was 15-of-19 from the field in the final quarter and beat the Jazz 126-118 on Saturday at the United Center.
"It's definitely frustrating to lose a game when there's a lot of good stuff in it," Jazz coach Will Hardy said. "Credit to the Bulls. They were 6-for-7 from 3 in the fourth quarter; that's high-level shooting."
It was another night that came with yet another lesson for the still growing Jazz team.
WIth 9:34 left in the game, Utah held a 7-point lead; that's when the Bulls hit three consecutive 3-pointers to start a run. Patrick Williams hit one from the corner, Colby White found one in transition, and then Williams struck again from the opposite corner.
It was a bam-bam-bam sequence that left the Jazz a bit demoralized, and the blitzkrieg soon followed. DeMar DeRozan scored 15 of his 35 points in the final frame, while Zach LaVine finished with 36 points for the Bulls. It was the beginning of what was a Chicago 24-9 run in the fourth quarter to flip the game.
"I think the learning moment for our team is that guys can make two or three hard shots in a row, and you still have to maintain your discipline and commitment to the game plan and to playing with the level of intensity that you need on defense," Hardy said. "You can't let three tough shots deflate you, and I felt like that's what happened in those moments."
The energy level went down after those shots, and players slumped their shoulders as if to say, "Oh no, not again." That wasn't a good sign.
"You have to be able in those moments to bounce back and maintain your level of focus, because that's where 8-point runs turned into 14-point runs," Hardy said.
That's just what happened on Saturday in Chicago. So chalk it up to another learning opportunity for a team that is now sliding down the standings. Utah has lost five of its last six games and are now tied with the MInnesota Timberwolves for the final spot in the play-in tournament.
"Our team is learning that you can play well and things can not go your way," Hardy said. "You have to maintain your focus on your approach, not just the results."
Especially since the results as of late haven't been great for the team — even as Markkanen has continued to make a strong All-Star case. That case continued on Saturday.
Markkanen was 10-of-13 from inside the arc and got the crowd buzzing with numerous dunks; however, like the rest of his team, he struggled from 3-point range, which was highlighted by his two late misses that would have helped the Jazz stay close in the final minute.
"Yeah, they felt great — probably the best I felt all night, especially the first one; I felt that was in," Markkanen said of the last two shots. "I mean, the second one, too — they felt great. Obviously, they got a good contest on the second one, but that felt good right when it left my hand; and, unfortunately, it hit the back rim tonight."
Markkanen went 2-of-7 from behind the arc while the Jazz as a team shot 12-of-41 from deep.
And without a certain rookie, those numbers would have looked a lot worse.
Over the last two games, Ochai Agbaji has made a case to be a permanent fixture in Hardy's rotation. He scored 11 fourth-quarter points in Utah's win over Houston on Thurday, and he had an even better encore.
Agabji scored a career-high 19 points on 7-of-7 shooting, including 4-of-4 from 3-point range, in 21 minutes of play.
So to recap: Markkanen continued to look like a franchise cornerstone, a first-round pick from last summer's draft looks like a potential rotational player, and the Jazz got one-step closer to a lottery pick in June while playing a competitive game.
In some fan circles, that made for a pretty good night. Those circles just weren't in the Jazz locker room.