Jazz Absorb Opening Blow, Take Game One Over LA
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Los Angeles Clippers gave the Utah Jazz everything they could handle in the first half of their game one series, but when the final horn sounded, it was the Jazz who emerged with a 112-109 victory.
After trailing 60-47 at the half, Donovan Mitchell took over the game, scoring 32 of his game-high 45 points in the third and fourth quarter to carry the Jazz to victory.
Clippers stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George combined for 43 points on 13-36 shooting, but it was Marcus Morris who had the last look from three to tie the game but Rudy Gobert blocked the final attempt to secure the Jazz victory.
Donovan Mitchell The Best Player On The Floor
Donovan Mitchell missed 17 consecutive games after suffering a sprained ankle on April 16. Mitchell missed the final 16 games of the regular season and the opening game of the playoffs but returned to close out the series against the Memphis Grizzlies and open against Los Angeles.
Since returning, Mitchell is averaging 31.8 points, 5.6 assists, and 3.0 rebounds while shooting a blistering 47 percent from the floor and 40 percent from three.
The two-time All-Star scored 45 points on 16-30 shooting including 6-15 from deep while adding five rebounds and three assists in game one against the Clippers.
Mitchell has now scored at least 30 points in three straight playoff games and 10 of his last 15 postseason appearances.
The guard laid out the impressive performance in front of former Jazz MVP Karl Malone who was in the building to cheer on his old team. Not since “The Mailman” graced the court in Salt Lake City have the Jazz had a superstar capable of taking over playoff games so completely on the offensive end.
After a sluggish 5-14 shooting start for Mitchell in the first half, the guard knocked down 11-16 shots in the second half, including 4-7 in the second half and 6-7 from the three-point to give the Jazz the win.
He’s a great player,” Bojan Bogdanovic said of Mitchell. “He saw that we were down 13 at half time, so probably he thought, ‘I’ve got to take over the game. I’ve got to be extra aggressive, especially in the third quarter.’ So he got us back in a game.”
The guard is now averaging 1.02 points per minute that he’s on the floor, trailing only Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid in the playoffs.
Jazz Use Defense, Speed To Down Clippers
Going into the series there was no doubt that the Clippers had the more talented half-court offense between the two teams.
Leonard and Georges are elite isolation players, while the Clippers led the NBA in three-point shooting percentage for the season. On defense, the Clippers sports exceptional length and proven one-on-one perimeter defenders.
To combat the Clippers’ talent, the Jazz needed to get back on defense to allow Gobert to have his usual impact on the floor and run the ball on offense as much as possible to wear down the Clippers’ tired legs.
“The initial thrust for us into a possession allows us to make quick decisions,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said.
“To the extent that we can try to get the ball up the court quickly, we’re not having to play against that length as much.”
In the first half, the Jazz did neither, allowing LA to score 60 points on 47 percent shooting from both the floor and the three-point line. The Clippers penetrated the Jazz perimeter defense and kicked the ball to open shooters en route to 11 first-half threes.
In the second half, Mitchell’s scoring forced the Clippers to take the ball out of the basket to begin their offensive possessions, allowing the Jazz to set their defense, and run of Clippers misses.
Coming off a brutal game seven victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday, the Clippers looked gassed for stretches of the second half, knocking down just 37 percent of their field goals including 26 percent of their threes while the Jazz kept pressure on their wilting defense.
Snyder repeatedly urged his team to run the ball off both makes and misses in the second half which led to more open shots at the rim, collapsing the Clippers’ defense leading to open threes.
The Jazz built a 103-93 lead with 5:22 left, a lead the Clippers trimmed to just three with 38 seconds left to play, but survived thanks to Gobert’s game-saving block.
Bojan Bogdanovic, Jordan Clarkson, and Joe Ingles, none of whom are regularly applauded for their defense, all made big defensive plays to help the Jazz earn the victory.
“I think Jordan’s approach, coming out and doing what he does on the offensive end and also being the on the defensive end,” Mitchell said. “Bojan communicating, we all know what Rudy is going to do […] Joe coming out there do what he does as well.”
The Jazz didn’t need a complete defensive performance to beat the Grizzlies in the first round but answered a major question to open round two by proving they had the ability to lock in defensively against the Clippers.
Every Jazz Player Makes A Difference
Though not every Jazz player had their best performance in game one, each player made at least one big play to help the team get the win. Here’s a breakdown from the top of the roster to the bottom of how each player helped the Jazz win.
Donovan Mitchell: Mitchell’s impact was the most obvious, but beyond his scoring, his ability to break the paint bent the Clippers’ defense, finally allowing the Jazz shooters to get on track while getting Gobert in the mix offensively.
Mitchell finished with 45 points and five assists.
Rudy Gobert: Gobert’s game-saving block is one that very few players on the planet can make. But, it wouldn’t have been possible had Gobert not avoided fouling out over the final 5:08 of the game after picking up his fifth foul. The two-time defensive player of the year continued to keep LA out of the paint despite playing one foul from elimination.
Gobert finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds.
Bojan Bogdanovic: Bogdanovic had arguably his best defensive game of the season against Leonard using his size and strength to keep the superstar from getting easy looks at the rim. However, it was his pull-up three with 5:22 left in the fourth quarter to give the Jazz a 10 point lead that was most critical to the Jazz success.
Bogdanovic finished with 18 points and five rebounds.
Royce O’Neale: Few players have impacted the Jazz five straight playoff wins more glaringly, yet quietly than Royce O’Neale. In addition to holding Paul George to a miserable 4-17 shooting night, O’Neale continued to be a terror on the glass pulling down 11 rebounds on the night, including five in the final 10 minutes of the game to secure the win.
O’Neale finished with eight points and 11 rebounds.
Joe Ingles: Ingles quiet playoffs continued with a 3-12 shooting night including just 1-8 from three, but that didn’t mean he didn’t impact the game. Ingles dished out seven assists, but his defense in the final 18 seconds of the game forced the ball out of Leonard’s hands allowing Gobert to make the game-winning block on Morris.
Ingles finished with eight points and seven assists.
Jordan Clarkson: The Jazz opened the game shooting absolutely miserably, including Clarkson who missed his first six shots of the game. However, the microwave scorer connected on two threes in the final 48 seconds of the quarter to rim the Clippers lead 24-12 to 25-18 heading into the second quarter, keeping the Jazz head above water.
Clarkson finished with 18 points on six made threes.
Derrick Favors: After picking up three first quarter fouls, it looked like Derrick Favors was going to have a rough night in the second unit. However, the veteran center played five crucial minutes in the third quarter grabbing three rebounds and blocking two shots to help the Jazz outscore the Clippers by six.
Favors finished the night with two points and six rebounds
Georges Niang: Niang was a team-worst -9 in 12 minutes, but made up for it with an enormous three in the third quarter. Despite opening the game 0-3, Niang knocked down his only shot in the second half giving the Jazz a two point lead with under two minutes to play in the third.
Niang finished with three points and two rebounds.
Miye Oni: Oni was forced into the lineup as the Jazz were without Mike Conley due to the veteran’s ongoing hamstring injury. Oni struggled to defend without fouling most of the game but grabbed two offensive rebounds in the third quarter to force the Clippers into extra defensive possessions on tired legs.
Mitchell described the full-team effort after the win.
“By any means necessary, I think that’s what you saw from a lot of us tonight,” Mitchell said. “I think that’s what it’s going to take to get four wins against this team. We’ve all got to do our part.”
The Jazz and Clippers will tip-off game two on Thursday at 8 pm MT.