Utah rookie Walker Kessler, coming off one of the best all-around games of his young NBA career, is pumped up to play against Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers in Salt Lake City on Saturday night as the Jazz complete a back-to-back home set.
“I’m excited for the opportunity, excited to learn,” Kessler said. “Let’s get another win.”
In the Jazz’s 112-108 win over the Orlando Magic on Friday, Kessler finished with 13 points, nine rebounds and a career-high seven blocked shots.
The former Auburn big man, selected 22nd overall in the 2022 draft, also flashed one of the biggest smiles of his career after making a pair of clutch foul shots with 11.1 seconds remaining to help secure the win. Those free throws came after Kessler, who is starting in place of Kelly Olynyk (ankle), was fouled while grabbing an offensive rebound.
“I don’t know if you could tell, but I was beaming from ear to ear,” said Kessler, who finished 3 of 6 from the line on the night. “I went up there and touch took care of the rest. I’m not going to talk about the previous free throws I missed. But we got the win, so I’m happy.”
As nice as the 7-footer’s big game was, his statistics pale in comparison to the outing his next opponent compiled in their last meeting.
The Jazz will have to contain Embiid more than they did in their first matchup this season. The center scored a career-high 59 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, dished out eight assists and swatted a season-high seven shots, carrying the Sixers to a 105-98 home win on Nov. 13.
Embiid became the first player to total at least 50 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and five blocked shots since blocks became an official stat in the 1973-74 season.
“I’ve never seen a more dominating performance when you combine defense and offense,” Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said that night.
Embiid scored 26 of the Sixers’ 27 points in the fourth quarter. He produced a game-clinching sequence in the final minutes, first blocking Collin Sexton’s layup attempt with 1:19 remaining and the Sixers up 101-98, then sinking a bucket on the other end.
“My teammates knew who had the hot hand and they just had to feed me,” Embiid said.
Philadelphia had Friday off after taking a 133-114 home loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday. Embiid had 30 points and 10 boards, but the 76ers fell apart in the middle two quarters en route to the defeat.
“We’re a good defensive team, but we did not defend tonight,” Rivers said. “I guess the one common theme overall is just getting beat off the dribble into the point. On those nights, we struggle. Honestly, on those nights, every team struggles. They got into the paint over and over again.”
It was a 50-point turnaround from the Sixers’ game on Tuesday, a 147-116 home rout of the Detroit Pistons.
The Saturday game kicks off a five-game Western Conference road trip for Philadelphia, a trek that includes stops in Utah, Los Angeles (against the Lakers and Clippers), Portland and Sacramento.
Utah is looking for its first winning streak of more than two games since shortly before playing at Philadelphia in mid-November. The Jazz, who got off to a blazing 10-3 start this season, won a second game in a row Friday for the fourth time in the past eight weeks.
–Field Level Media