SPORTS

Jazz Prove Wins Are For Real With Victory Over Clippers

Dec 29, 2019, 12:35 AM | Updated: 12:41 am
Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)...
Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES, California – The Utah Jazz continued their string of hot play, beating the Los Angeles Clippers on the road 120-107 for their best win of the season, and extending their streak to seven wins in eight games. Donovan Mitchell took over in the second half and proved the Jazz recent stretch of basketball isn’t determined by the quality of their opponent. 

The Story

The Jazz had won six of seven games entering the night against the Clippers, but the wins themselves left many to wonder whether the team was playing better basketball, or simply beating up on lesser opponents. 

During the seven-game streak, the Jazz had defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves, Golden State Warriors, Orlando Magic, Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, and Portland Trailblazers. Of the six, only the Magic and Trailblazers are currently poised to make the postseason and still are a combined nine games under .500 on the season. 

That narrative can be put to bed after the Jazz defeated the Clippers in Los Angeles. The Clippers entered the night 13 games over .500 and firmly in the fifth seed in the Western Conference. They were 14-2 at Staples Center before facing the Jazz, and are expected to be contenders to make the Finals out of the West at end of the year. 

The Jazz had hoped they might be considered one of the teams that would compete to keep the Clippers from reaching those heights, and for the first time all season, those hopes may not be just a pipedream. 

For the second straight night, Mitchell poured in 30 points, including dominant fourth quarters that showed the league that he may have arrived as a star-level player capable of going toe-to-toe with the league’s best scorers. 

On Thursday night, Mitchell outdueled Portland’s Damian Lillard, while in Los Angeles, Mitchell outshined Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. 

“We’ve come along way and we’ve all picked it up on so many different ends,” Mitchell said, “We’re all doing our thing.”

After a five-game road trip that saw the Jazz win just one game and suffer blowouts in three of the four losses, the team’s ability to reach these heights were in serious doubt. After taking down the Clippers on the road, the Jazz announced they are a force to be reckoned with in the Western Conference. 

The Game

The game began by evoking difficult memories of the Jazz trip to Los Angeles where despite a strong offensive performance, the Clippers ripped away a victory thanks to their offensive rebounding. 

Though the Clippers were without reserve big man Montrezl Harrell who led the charge for Los Angeles in the teams’ last meeting, the Jazz still found themselves getting badly outrebounded in the first quarter. 

After 12 minutes of play, the Jazz trailed the Clippers 32-22 and had been outrebounded 22-9, including 10-2 on the offensive glass. Ivica Zubacs had outplayed Rudy Gobert, scoring 12 points and grabbing eight rebounds in just 9:45 minutes.

However, in the second quarter when the Jazz have traditionally allowed opposing teams to build big leads, the new look second unit overpowered the Clippers reserves and trailed just 63-61 going into the half. 

Jordan Clarkson, in just his second game in a Jazz uniform, scored 11 second-quarter points on 4-5 shooting, and showed why the team was willing to take a gamble on him. By games end, the Jazz bench nearly matched the production of the Clippers typically stellar group, scoring 35 points to the Clippers 41, never allowing the game to get out of hand. Clarkson was the Jazz second-leading scorer with 19 points.

“Any time you’ve got- NBA special talent which for him, he’s able to score the ball, you can get focused on that, and I think he’s got a lot of pride,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said of Clarkson, “As a basketball player he knows defense is important to us. It’s not like he’s questioning any of that. He’s trying to guard, guys respect that.”

“Who he is as a player, he plays with a lot of passion, and he’s just dialed in in timeouts. To be this new to the group and be as focused as he is on helping us win, he’s not out there thinking about- I’ve got to score, he’s thinking about winning.”

The Jazz had their most complete defensive performance of the season and held the Clippers to just a 43.2 effective field goal percentage. That number ranks among the bottom seven percent of shooting performances on the season by any team, and one of the Jazz best overall outings. 

“I think it’s definitely one of the best, between the fourth quarter, one of the best quarters of basketball that we’ve played defensively,” Gobert said, “We were able to not foul, defend them, and get the rebounds. It was the three things thtat we wanted to do to win this game and we did.”

Leonard and George combined for 39 points on 12-44 shooting and were a combined -31 while on the floor. Mitchell outpaced both Leonard and George in the second half, scoring 18 points to the Clippers duo’s 17 in the third and fourth quarters. 

The Jazz were able to outscore the Clippers despite a 27-17 free-throw attempt discrepancy by knocking down 17-35 threes. The Clippers made just 12-40 attempts from behind the three-point line. 

The Big Picture

The Jazz moved to 20-12 on the season with their win in Los Angeles and have a favorable schedule ahead. Eight of the next 10 Jazz opponents are currently on the outside of the playoffs looking in. While Brooklyn and Orlando, the two playoff teams the Jazz will face are a combined three games under .500. 

Mitchell scored 30 points or more for the fifth time in the last 11 games, all but one of which saw starting point guard Mike Conley sidelined. Mitchell had a similar run last January when Ricky Rubio, Dante Exum, and Raul Neto were out with injuries, and the combo guard was forced into lead guard duties. Whether the Jazz feel the need to find more opportunities for Mitchell to fill that role or not, it’s a nice luxury to know as capable playing point guard as he has shown. 

After suffering the worst start of his career over the first month and a half of the season, Joe Ingles has caught fire in December. The Australian wing hit five three’s or more for the third consecutive game, and has 18 combined in his last three outings. Ingles has scored in double-digits in eight straight games. 

The Jazz will face the Detroit Pistons Monday night in Salt Lake City for their final game of the decade.

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