Utah Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic (44) and LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) fight for the ball in the NBA playoffs in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 10, 2021. The Jazz won 117 -111. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)
SALT LAKE CITY – Donovan Mitchell jokingly told Bojan Bogdanovic: “We pay you to shoot!”
Joe Ingles scoffs at what could be in Bogdanovic’s future, saying: “He’s going to get injured because now for 82 regular seasons he’s going to have to pick up all the pitch.”
Here’s something nobody expected at the start of the series: Bogdanovic would be a Kawhi Leonard plug. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch – actually, it was just during Utah’s 117-111 win in Game 2.
Leonard, two-time NBA Finals MVP, knows how to pick up a late game. You could feel that was exactly what he wanted to do on Thursday. The Los Angeles Clippers have faced a 0-2 hole in the playoffs before. And even though they stepped out of the previous one, it’s not necessarily something they can’t wait to do again.
But Leonard had someone in his way as he tried to make a lasting mark in Game 2: A 6-foot-7-inch Croatian forward who is far better known for his ability to shoot than his ability to defend. Strange things can happen in the playoffs.
Leonard was 1 of 4 in the fourth quarter for 2 points and had two turnovers. Much of the credit goes to Bogdanovic for this.
Take a look at this game with over eight minutes to play, as an example:
Bogdanovic not only stops Leonard driving, but he’s so physical that Leonard is forced to completely evacuate him and reset himself. And once Leonard gets the ball back, Bogdanovic forces him to embark on a contested fadeaway jump.
“Bojan’s defense was superb,” said Mitchell. “He took on that role and took on that challenge.… He took on the role of taking it head on.
“Obviously we have Royce (O’Neale) and Rudy (Gobert) who are star defenders, but we have a guy like Bojan and JC (Jordan Clarkson) giving us a boost. changed the complexion of the game. “
He did it all after landing on DeMarcus Cousin’s foot in the first half and twisting his ankle. He was clearly in pain. But after leaving him, he stayed in the game.
One of the Jazz’s supposed weaknesses leading up to the playoffs was the lack of wing defenders. O’Neale has been Utah’s mainstay all season – usually tasked with protecting the opposing team’s star wings. But what would happen when there were two of them defending the Clippers? This is why many fans were confused when the Jazz did not choose a defensive wing in last year’s NBA Draft and some even hoped a trade would bring one to Utah at the deadline.
Apparently there has been another capable defenseman on the roster the entire time. The playoffs just needed to unfold for him to be unlocked.
Ahead of the playoffs, Jazz head coach Quin Snyder and Bogdanovic discussed what the team needs from him to run a deep run. Obviously, Jazz needed his shot and his score, but Snyder stressed that Bogdanovic needs to step up in other areas as well.
“We were a bit on him to make sure he got on the glass,” Snyder said. “And it was very clear that this is the playoffs, and he’s ready, and he’s locked up – and that’s what you saw.
“He’s one of the most competitive guys I’ve ever been around, and that translates to both ends of the pitch. It doesn’t show up as much on the defensive end – it’s not as visible I should say – but, sure, in this series, with these few guys, not just All-Star players but some of the best players in the league, it’s hard to contain. If anything, I just liked the the way he competes. Obviously that’s important to him. He knows how much we need him to win, and that’s what matters most to him. “
This competitiveness made it easy for Snyder to trust Bogdanovic in high pressure situations – like facing one of the best players in the game at Leonard or taking a clutch hit at the end.
“I love it when he shoots late,” Snyder said Wednesday. “It’s almost like no matter what the game has been like, we give him a head start, he has a contested corner 3 with three minutes left, I feel like that shot is going to come in.”
It was almost as if Snyder could see the future. He was just a little late.
With just under six minutes to go on Thursday, Clarkson threw the ball past Bogdanovic in the corner. He hit the 3 on Reggie Jackson’s outstretched arm to give Jazz the edge for good.
“What Bojan has done tonight shouldn’t go unnoticed,” Snyder said. “He was – when you talk about a warrior, the way he played on both ends of the pitch. He always seems to want the ball at the important points of the game.”