Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen gestures to teammates during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics, Saturday, March 18, 2023, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

By MATTHEW COLES Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Lauri Markkanen scored 28 points and Walker Kessler had a game-saving block to help the Utah Jazz to a 118-117 comeback win over the Boston Celtics on Saturday night.

Grant Williams, who had 23 points and a career-high seven 3-pointers, was driving for a potential game-winner but ran into Kessler, who blocked his shot just before the final buzzer.

“I figured he was going to shot fake so I stayed down and tried to time it as best as I could and I got a hand on it,” Kessler said about his rejection at the rim.

The play was designed to go to Jayson Tatum on a dribble handoff, but Williams had 12 points in the fourth quarter and took it to the hoop.

“I’m not frustrated at Grant. If he made it, everybody would be happy. It’s not why we lost, that last play,” Tatum said.

Talen Horton-Tucker had 19 points and Ochai Agbaji added 16 for the Jazz, who overcame a 19-point deficit to win and stay in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.

“We want to make the playoffs,” said Markkanen of his team that was universally picked near the bottom of the league before the season began. “That playoff intensity will just help this young team grow.”

Jaylen Brown scored 25 points, Malcolm Brogdon had 16 and Tatum finished with 15, but was shut out in the second half as the short-handed Celtics were playing their third game in four nights.

“Our physicality waned,” Williams said. “They started playing more aggressive and … we started playing a little more passively.”

The Jazz played a hybrid zone defense at times and doubled Tatum whenever they could on the perimeter. That left other Celtics wide open, especially in the corners as the Jazz scrambled to keep up.

The Celtics (49-23) made 22 3-pointers, one off their season high, but missed enough down the stretch for the Jazz to pull off the win.

“Our defensive intensity picked up and our communication got better,” Utah coach Will Hardy said.

After Brown’s 3-pointer gave the Celtics a 117-113 lead with 1:19 to play, Markkanen made a 3-pointer and Horton-Tucker drove for a layup while Tatum missed two jumpers.

But the Jazz allowed the Celtics one last chance when Horton-Tucker dribbled for 20 seconds and then lost the ball out of bounds.

Kessler, who had 12 points and 14 rebounds, saved Utah’s comeback effort with the defensive play of the game and his third blocked shot.

Kelly Olynyk had 13 points, 13 rebounds and six assists for the Jazz (34-36), who have won three of four.

The Jazz hadn’t played a home game since Feb. 28 and were coming off five days of rest after a six-game trip.

Meanwhile, the injury-riddled Celtics were looking for someone to score, and the Jazz were daring somebody other than Tatum to beat them.

“I was just playing the game the right way. They were trying to get the ball out of my hands,” Tatum said.

Williams nearly pulled it off, but was one shot short.

Regular Boston starters Marcus Smart (hip) and Al Horford (back) missed the game. Fortunately, Brogdon (Achilles) made his return.

The Jazz weren’t at full strength either, with Jordan Clarkson (thumb) and Collin Sexton (hamstring) on the injured list.

Despite Tatum going scoreless in the third quarter, Brogdon hit a 3 and fed Luke Kornet for a dunk to power a 16-3 Boston run and make it 91-85 with 39 seconds left in the third.

The Celtics led 64-57 at the half on the strength of 13 3-pointers and Tatum’s three free throws after being fouled with 0.4 seconds left in the second quarter.

THE DO-FLY ZONE

Olynyk and Markkanen asked Hardy to revisit the zone the Jazz had tried without much success earlier in the season.

It looked like a 1-3-1 zone at times with switching and doubling, especially when Tatum or Brown had the ball. Once the Jazz went down 19, Hardy didn’t feel like he had much to lose.

“He’s super open-minded. He’s an outside-the-box thinker and loves that kind of stuff and all the different opportunities and possibilities,” Olynyk said.

Markkannen lobbied for it because of the team’s youth and athleticism with Kessler as the anchor.

“It’s chaos,” Markkanen said. “Just flying around, really trying to mess up their rhythm and make them hesitate on their decision making.”

TIP-INS Celtics: Robert Williams III (hamstring) missed his eighth game in a row, while Payton Pritchard (heel) has been held out of six straight. … Brown was called for a Flagrant Penalty 1 on Walker Kessler’s drive with 1:43 to play, but Kessler missed both free throws. … The Celtics committed six turnovers.

Jazz: Outscored Boston in the paint, 48-30. … Kelly Olynyk got a technical when he was on the bench in the first quarter. … The Jazz outrebounded the Celtic 56-40 and had 20 second-chance points.

UP NEXT

Celtics: At Sacramento on Tuesday to finish their season-high six-game road trip.

Jazz: Host Sacramento on Monday.

___

AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports