NBA: Ochai Agbaji's career night powers Jazz past Kings

Utah Jazz guard Ochai Agbaji (right) drives against Sacramento Kings guard De'Aaron Fox in the fourth quarter at Vivint Arena. PHOTO: REUTERS

UTAH – Playing in the G League, or the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) official minor league, was something of a positive step for rookie Ochai Agbaji.

On Monday night, he used the experience he had with the Salt Lake City Stars earlier in the season to score an NBA career-high 27 points, leading the short-handed Utah Jazz to a 128-120 home victory over the Sacramento Kings.

“I kind of saw that as my own race, starting there,” Agbaji said on ESPN of the G League.

“My expectations were a little bit different coming in (to the NBA), but starting there, I had to be fine with it, had to go with it, had to give it my all and have a positive attitude while I was doing it.”

Agbaji, who led the University of Kansas to the NCAA championship in 2022, made several key plays down the stretch to help the Jazz win despite the absence of injured starters Lauri Markkanen (back), Jordan Clarkson (finger) and Collin Sexton (hamstring).

Eight Jazz players scored in double figures as Utah (35-36) jumped out to a 25-point lead and then regained composure after falling behind early in the fourth quarter.

Kelly Olynyk tallied 19 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, Kris Dunn added 18 points and 10 assists off the bench and Udoka Azubuike contributed 13 points and eight boards for the Jazz.

Walker Kessler had 10 points, eight rebounds and five blocked shots.

“We were able to use our pace. It’s been a huge emphasis for us to try to play faster,” Jazz coach Will Hardy said.

“We fed off our defence. We did a good job of getting stops and it allowed us to get out and run.”

De’Aaron Fox produced 37 points and seven assists and Keegan Murray had 22 points, but the Kings (43-28) saw their three-game winning streak end.

High-flying Sacramento also suffered their first loss in eight road outings, but remain in third in the Western Conference behind the Denver Nuggets (48-24) and Memphis Grizzlies (44-27).

The Jazz are 10th in the West on 35-36.

“We lost this game in the first quarter,” Fox said of the period in which the Kings were down 19-40.

“We shot ourselves in the foot. Obviously we fought back, but you don’t want to be in that type of position.”

The Kings grabbed their first lead at 100-98 with 9min 15sec remaining and seemed to have the momentum after erasing the Jazz’s big lead with a 43-point third quarter.

However, big plays by Azubuike helped Utah bounce back to seal the win. REUTERS

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.