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Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul Georges looks for answers against the Utah Jazz (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
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Ingles Carries Jazz To 2-0 Lead Over Clippers

Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul Georges looks for answers against the Utah Jazz (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz beat the Los Angeles Clippers 117-111 in game two of their Western Conference Semifinal to protect home-court advantage, and take a 2-0 lead heading back to Los Angeles.

Donovan Mitchell scored 37 points but was clearly laboring in the second half on his injured right leg, leading the Jazz to turn to Joe Ingles late in the game who sealed the victory his spectacular play in the pick and roll.

Reggie Jackson willed the Clippers back from a 21 point deficit in the second half, giving Los Angeles a two-point lead 6:37 left to play, but the Jazz answered with a 14-2 run to take a 10 point lead with just over three minutes remaining, giving Utah enough breathing room to win their sixth straight playoff game.

 Mitchell Fades, Ingles Shines

Donovan Mitchell opened the game brilliantly, scoring 27 first half points on 11-16 shooting and 5-8 from the three-point line.

However, late in the second quarter Mitchell slipped on a stepback dribble and appeared to hurt the right leg that had caused him to miss 17 games for the Jazz to close the regular season.

After halftime, the guard managed just 10 points on 4-13 shooting including 1-4 from the three-point line, but after the game insisted he was fine outside of a few bumps and bruises.

“I got hit, and it hurt, but I’m fine now,” Mitchell said. “I walked in here, I can sprint for you if you want me to.”

As Mitchell faded down the stretch, Ingles picked up the slack filling in for the injured Mike Conley.

Ingles scored 19 points on 7-10 shooting while adding four rebounds and four assists in 32 minutes. The guard had scored just 13 points combined over his last four outings for the Jazz but stepped up when it was clear Mitchell didn’t have the energy to fill the closing role for the Jazz.

“I thought that Joe played with tremendous poise and confidence,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said of Ingles.

After the Clippers took a 101-99 lead midway through the fourth, Ingles scored a layup to tie the game, hit Rudy Gobert for a dunk and a foul to push the lead to five, assisted on a Royce O’Neale three, then hit a three of his own to rebuild the Jazz lead to 10 with 3:07 left to play.

In total, Ingles scored or assisted on 11 points over seven possessions over a 3:30 stretch to seal the victory.

“The beauty of our team is that we’ve got a lot of guys that can handle the ball and make plays and obviously make shots,” Ingles said.

It’s the level of play the Jazz are used to getting from Conley but found in the 33-year-old combo guard during the most crucial stretch of the season. It’s the type of depth championship-level teams display when they face adversity, and the Jazz proved to have yet another answer to the Clippers’ defense to open their second-round series.

Jazz Winning The Leonard And George Minutes

Going into the series, the popular narrative was that the Jazz likely didn’t have an ability to match the isolation scoring of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The narrative existed for good reason and George and Leonard are two of the most talented scorers in the NBA and have proven it on the biggest stages the league has to offer.

Through two games, however, Leonard and George haven’t had the answers.

In 73 minutes to open the series, the Jazz have outscored the Clippers by 20 points with Leonard on the floor. In George’s more than 80 minutes, the Jazz have outscored the Clippers by 15.

It’s a significant development as coach Tyronn Lue continues to find lineups that will work against the Jazz in the series, and has so far come up empty-handed.

In game one, Lue opened with the game with the same small lineup that flummoxed the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs, starting Nicolas Batum at center to help space the floor.

In game two, Lue turned to Ivica Zubac who had a terrific game one, but struggled in game two scoring seven points but failing to grab a rebound or hand out an assist while committing four personal fouls in just under 14 minutes.

Zubac had the best plus-minus of any Clippers starter at +1, but clearly didn’t win over Lue with his play, failing to see the floor in the fourth quarter.

The Clippers’ best stretch of the game came when they switched to a zone defense in the second half which helped grind the Jazz defense to a half in the third quarter. The Clippers turned the Jazz missed shots into east offense on the other end, led by Reggie Jackson who scored 24 of his 29 points in the second half.

“When they played zone, I thought our spacing broke down,” Snyder said. “Anytime you’re not spacing it’s tough to move the ball. We’ve been very good against zone over the course of the year, but I thought that affected us mentally.”

The Jazz didn’t see long stretches of zone defense from the Memphis Grizzlies in their opening-round series, so when the Clippers turned to it in the third quarter, it was the first time the Jazz had to test their offense against the zone in nearly a month.

However, as the Jazz have done all season, they worked through the Clippers zone in the fourth quarter and found the solution.

“We get better things as time goes on and at the start of the zone we weren’t very good,” Ingles admitted. “I think we got a bit stagnant in it and looked at Donovan to make a play each time. As the quarter went on, and the zone went on, we figured out some things.”

The Clippers will likely go back to the zone defense in game three, but if they can’t start winning the minutes when George and Leonard are on the floor, Lue’s adjustments likely won’t matter.

Conley Getting Extra Days Off

Lost in the shuffle of the Jazz two thrilling wins to open the series is the absence of Conley who has yet to step on the floor in the series.

After reinjuring his hamstring in the Jazz game five victory over the Grizzlies, Conley has been listed as questionable the night before games one and two but ruled out each of the following mornings.

With the Clippers needing seven games to close out the Mavericks, the Jazz knew they’d have five days of rest before game one and would have nine days off before game three.

Though the Jazz wouldn’t have gambled with Conley’s health if he wasn’t cleared to play (just as they held out Mitchell in game one against the Grizzlies) the ability to build a two-game lead in the series without the veteran is a significant advantage if and when the guard returns.

“It’s what we’ve done all year, obviously at different times had different guys out,” Ingles said. “Especially that last little stretch of the year.”

The Jazz lost Conley for nine of the team’s final 11 games of the season with the same hamstring injury that plagues him now, though it seemed the Jazz were comfortable playing him when they knew they needed to win the final two games of the regular season to guarantee home-court advantage.

Now, with a two-game advantage, the Jazz find themselves in the enviable spot of either bringing Conley back off extended rest for his ailing hamstring, or potentially giving the veteran additional days off while they hope to extend their lead in the Los Angeles.

Regardless of when he returns, the Jazz have earned valuable wins, and time off for Conley to retake the floor when he’s healthy.