Los Angeles Clippers forward Nicolas Batum (33) defends as Utah Jazz goaltender Donovan Mitchell, left, goes to the basket in the first half of Game 2 of an NBA basketball playoff series second round on Thursday, June 10, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (Rick Bowmer, Associated Press)
SALT LAKE CITY – The Los Angeles Clippers were trying to find something to slow down Donovan Mitchell and the Utah Jazz.
Give up a big blanket? Of course, that didn’t work.
Blitz the pick and roll? That either.
Change everything? Not that night.
There was also a moment in the third quarter when it looked like the Jazz were going to sideline the Clippers with relative ease. LA had tried everything and nothing had worked – Mitchell was just out of control.
They hadn’t tried everything, however. In what seemed like a last ditch effort, the Clippers went for a showdown zone cover.
“We haven’t played against Zonal for a long time,” said Mitchell.
It showed that the once hot and flowing Jazz became completely stagnant, with Mitchell and Jordan Clarkson taking turns hoisting unfortunate shots. This defensive change may have cost the Jazz a 21-point second-half lead, but it hasn’t lost their stronghold in the series.
Just about everyone stepped in at the right time as the Jazz pulled away again late for a 117-111 win to take a 2-0 lead over the Clippers. The series will travel to Los Angeles for Game 3 on Saturday.
The last few minutes were more than stressful for the more than 18,000 jazz fans who filled Vivint Arena. After spending much of the night screaming as Mitchell became a supernova again, scoring 27 points on an 11-for-16 shot in the first half, the crowd suddenly seemed anxious.
A 3-point Reggie Jackson gave the Clippers a 101-99 lead midway through the fourth quarter – their first lead of the game. And Mitchell looked gassed, or injured, or both, and the Clippers suddenly found a defense that worked. All signs pointed to the show being linked to Los Angeles.
That’s when Utah’s fortunes changed.
Joe Ingles bowed into a float from the top of the back panel; Bojan Bogdanovic caught an out pass from Clarkson and buried a 3 point; Rudy Gobert came in growling and delivered a thunderous two-handed dunk while being fouled (he also did the free throw); Royce O’Neale punched a 3 from the corner; and Ingles finished the run that saved the game 14-2 by going in and nailing an open 3.
“It was no surprise to see them come out, make saves, score and then put us up 10,” said Mitchell, who finished with 37 points and four assists. “Joe stepped up his efforts, Bojan stepped up his defense, Royce has been a dog, we all know Rudy… but the most important thing is that we could do it collectively.”
The Jazz needed just about everyone – from Clarkson’s timely 3s at the end of the third quarter to Bogdanovic’s surprisingly stellar defense over Kawhi Leonard – to thwart the desperate Clippers.
“The beauty of our team is that we have a lot of guys who can handle the ball and make plays and obviously shoot,” said Ingles, who broke his playoff shooting crisis by going 7 of 10 out of the field. and 4 of 7 from the 3 point line to finish with 19 points.
Clarkson finished with 24 points off the bench; Gobert added 13 points, 20 boards and three blocks; and Bogdanovic amassed 16 points.
In the first half, however, it didn’t look like there would be a need for a late-game push. Remember the 45-point masterpiece Mitchell had in the first game? The young superstar picked up where he left off in Game 2.
Mitchell scored 27 points in the first half on 11 of 16 shots to lead the Jazz to a 13 point lead at halftime. He knew when to stop, when to hesitate on practices, when to attack the rim – it was a master class in reading defenses.
At least up to the area, and later the pain.
As the game progressed, Mitchell appeared considerably slowed down and deprived of the flurry that led to his first half of the scoring. Things did not improve when he was part of a collision away from the ball late in the game. As a result, he was slow to recover from the injury. But Mitchell later said it was okay.
“I’m fine. No problem,” Mitchell said when asked how his body felt. When he was pushed further he replied, “I got hit. It hurts. But I’m fine now. I walked in here and if you want me to sprint for you I can. I’m fine. . “
Thanks to his teammates, the Jazz are good too, heading to LA.
But have the Clippers found something to move forward with their surprise defensive approach?
“I mean, we haven’t seen an area for a long time,” Ingles said. “… We get better over time and at the start of the zone we weren’t very good. I think we’ve stagnated a bit and we’re looking at Donovan to make a play every time. as the shift went on, or as the time of the zone went on, there were a few things we understood.
“Now that we sort of know they’ve done it, there’s probably a good chance they’ll do it again. So we’ll be ready for that.”
It may mean that the Clippers could be back to the drawing board looking for another solution for Game 3.