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Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson (00) celebrates a three point shot. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)
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24 Games In, Jordan Clarkson Is Gift That Keeps Giving

Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson (00) celebrates a three point shot. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – For the third straight game, Jordan Clarkson has given the Jazz at least 20 points off the bench and has turned a once floundering second unit into one of the most potent in the NBA.

The Story

On December 23rd, the Utah Jazz lost to the Miami Heat 107-104. The Jazz bench was outscored 42-22, and was a combined -32 on the floor together. The Heat second unit was a combined +23.

The Jazz led the Heat 81-76 going into the final period but lost due to a 31-23 score discrepancy, and nearly 10 bench minutes that tallied zero points, zero assists, two rebounds, 0-2 shooting, and a combined -23 plus-minus.

Shortly before the game, the Jazz traded former lottery pick Dante Exum to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Jordan Clarkson, a potent scorer who had rarely played in meaningful games in his short six-year career.

To say the very least, it was a gamble.

Once again facing the same Heat team, now in Salt Lake City, and 24 games into the Clarkson experiment, the gamble hasn’t been a one-time payoff, its the bet that keeps giving, and giving, and giving.

For the third straight game, Clarkson scored at least 20 points, but more importantly provided the Jazz with a much needed second-half boost to propel the team to victory when game appeared to be at risk of going either way.

Wednesday night, between the time he subbed into the game at the 5:34 mark of the third quarter, and the subbed out at the 7:26 mark of the fourth quarter, Clarkson scored 10 points on a perfect 3-3 from the three-point line, handed out two assists, grabbed one rebound, and saw a 65-65 tied game turn into a 98-87 Jazz advantage.

Clarkson’s 10:08 seconds stretch turned a close game into a runaway victory for the Jazz by doing the same thing he’s done for the team since the first time he put on the uniform.

In 24 games for the Jazz, Clarkson has scored in double-digits all but five times, has scored 20 points or more nine times, and has scored 30 or more twice. Clarkson is averaging 16 ppg, shooting 48 percent from the floor and 37 percent from the three-point line in just under 26 minutes per game. No other player in the NBA this season is averaging that many points, and doing it as efficiently in so few minutes.

Over his last eight games, Clarkson is averaging a stunning 21.7 points per game, shooting 56 percent from the floor and 51 percent from the three-point line.

Simply put, Clarkson is playing the best basketball of his career.

Most importantly for the Jazz, the team is 18-6 since his acquisition and is entering the All-Star break with the league’s longest winning streak.

The Game

The Jazz were once again plagued by turnovers in the first quarter of the game, committing five giveaways in the opening 12 minutes. The Heat run more zone defense than any other team in the NBA which seemed to confuse the Jazz on where and when they could make passes.

“You can hit a great putt and have the perfect line and be going in the hole, but if someone kicks it,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said, “Someone is going to try to kick it every time.”

All five Jazz turnovers were live-ball steals from Miami leading to easy transition baskets and a 28-25 Miami lead after the first quarter.

The Heat were able to build on their lead in the second quarter thanks to a brilliant stretch from All-Star Jimmy Butler. The nine-year veteran scored 14 second-quarter points on 5-10 shooting, and the hot shooting of guard Duncan Robinson. Robinson has evolved into one of the game’s best shooters and repeatedly burned the Jazz who lost the second-year player off screens behind the perimeter. The former Michigan guard scored 12 points on 4-7 shooting from three in the first half to build a 52-47 lead at the break.

The Jazz turned the tide in the third quarter by eliminating Robinson’s touches and attacking the rim offensively. The team finished the quarter shooting 12-24 from the floor while taking just six three-point shots against the Heat defense. Donovan Mitchell led the Jazz with eight points on 3-5 shooting in the period and pushed the Jazz to a 79-74 lead after three quarters. Robinson failed to attempt a shot in the third.

After the Heat trimmed the lead to just two at 87-85, Clarkson would help lead the Jazz on a 9-0 run to build the lead to 96-85, enough to casually stroll into the All-Star break with wins over four teams that are due to or are competing to make the playoffs.

The Big Picture

After a five-game losing streak that coincided with the team’s schedule pitting them against tougher opponents, the Jazz own the league’s longest winning streak going into the extended break at four games. Overall, the Jazz have won 23 of their last 30 games after starting the season 13-11.

The Jazz are the fourth seed in the West, sitting two games ahead of the Houston Rockets for the fifth seed, one game behind the Los Angeles Clippers for the three seed, and 1.5 games back of the Denver Nuggets for the second seed.

For the first time in eight games Donovan Mitchell finished with a positive plus-minus. the Jazz guard finished with a game-high  26 points on 9-16 shooting, 4-8 from three and was a +17 in 35 minutes.

In unusual fashion, Quin Snyder entered the locker room after the game and appeared to give Mitchell words of encouragement going into the All-Star break. Mitchell had had a rough stretch of basketball before Wednesday’s game, averaging just 18.3 points per game, shooting 39 percent from the floor and 30 percent from the three-point line over his last six games.

It’s become an afterthought because he does it so frequently, but Rudy Gobert was the best player on the floor against Miami despite hot shooting nights from Mitchell and Clarkson. Gobert finished the night 16 points, 20 rebounds, while shooting 7-12 from the floor. He did it against fellow All-Star Bam Adebayo who was held to just nine points and 11 rebounds on 4-10 shooting. Gobert was an overwhelming +25, while the Heat were -23 while Adebayo was on the floor.

KSL Sports will be well represented at the All-Star game. The sports team will be in arena for both All-Star Saturday Night and the NBA All-Star game on Sunday. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram @KSLSports for full coverage of the weekend.