UTAH JAZZ

Jazz Lose Four Straight, Season Ends At Hands Of Clippers

Jun 19, 2021, 12:50 AM | Updated: 12:52 am
Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell stands near the sidelines against the Los Angeles Clippers (Photo ...
Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell stands near the sidelines against the Los Angeles Clippers (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah –ย The Utah Jazz season is over after losing four straight games to the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference Semifinals.

The Jazz lost in one of the most difficult ways possible, building a 25 point lead early in the second half, only to watch it rapidly dissolve away, ultimately falling 131-119 on the final night of the season.

Donovan Mitchell had another magnificent performance, scoring 39 points, grabbing nine rebounds, and handing out nine assists, but it wasn’t enough to carry the Jazz to the victory.

Terance Mann had the game of his life for the Clippers, matching Mitchell’s 39 points on 15-21 shooting to eliminate the Jazz.

Jazz Defense Squanders Huge Lead

The Jazz led 75-50 just 24 seconds into the second half. At that point, the team appeared to be in total control and Mitchell and Jordan Clarkson had been unstoppable on offense, and the Jazz defense had been terrific in the first half.

Then it all changed.

Over the final 25 minutes and 35 seconds of the season, the Jazz were outscored 81-44. They allowed the Clippers to shoot 71 percent from the floor, and 73 percent from the three-point line.

Terance Mann and Reggie Jackson combined for 47 points, the same number of points the Jazz scored in the second half, and the Clippers ran away with a double-digit victory.

The method in which they dissected the Jazz defense was simple. Attack the Jazz slower perimeter defenders, get into the paint, and either finish at the rim or kick the ball out to open three-point shooters.

With Rudy Gobert on the floor to help protect the rim against the Jazz matador perimeter defense, the Clippers repeatedly found Mann in the corner for open threes, of which he shot 7-10.

The methodical execution coincided with a particularly hot shooting night, and the Jazz season was history.

After the game, Quin Snyder offered a detailed explanation of exactly what happened to the Jazz defense that cost them the game and the series.

“When Mann was in the strong corner early, Rudy shifted in, he’s protecting the rim and we’re trying to fall off to get to shooters. They put Mann on the other side of the floor, which in theory allows us to help more coming from the baseline. The hard thing about the penetration is when they’re getting middle, it pulls you in, and then the rotations are much more difficult.

So they were moving their spacing around, but the consistent thing is we’re trying to protect the rim, and we’re hoping that some of those threes that get contested — and they were late contests on a lot of them — and they were making them.”

The irony is that is similar to how the Jazz beat teams for most of the season. The Jazz would put pressure on the rim either through the pick and roll with Gobert or from isolation attacks from Mitchell and Mike Conley.

When the opposing team would help on the penetration, the Jazz would kick the ball out to their three-point shooters and swing the ball around the perimeter until they found an open shot.

The problem against L.A. is the Clippers didn’t even need a screen to get pressure on the rim, so Gobert had no choice but to help or surrender a layup.

“I’ve got to make this decision either staying with my guy and then giving up a layup, or helping and giving up a potential three,” Gobert said.

Ultimately, the issue starts with the Jazz perimeter defenders who routinely gave up the paint to the Clippers drivers. Paul George and Reggie Jackson repeatedly beat Mitchell, Conley, and Clarkson off the dribble, and Gobert had to rotate to help.

When Gobert rotated, the three in the corner was open. If the Jazz were to switch to a smaller defender in place of Gobert, say Ersan Ilyasova, they would have surrendered easy looks at the rim. But when sticking with Gobert, they repeatedly gave up the three.

It’s a flaw in the Jazz defensive execution from the perimeter defenders, a flaw in the scheme with Gobert, and a flaw in the personnel for not having an alternative for the coaching staff to turn to.

“We’ll watch the film and we’ll kick ourselves that there are things that we wanted to do more or better,” Snyder said. “But hats off to them for the kind of night that they had driving the ball and kicking it and shooting it.”

Mitchell’s Incredible Playoff Performance

Mitchell was dealt with a difficult hand heading into the playoffs, returning on an obviously severely injured ankle, and having to play out of position as the team’s point guard once Conley reaggravated his hamstring injury late in the first round.

Despite the setbacks, the guard proved once again he’s one of the league’s top postseason performers.

In 10 games, Mitchell averaged 32.3 points, 5.5 assists, and 4.2 rebounds while shooting 44 percent from the floor and 43 percent from the three-point line.

“He’s a warrior,” Snyder said of the two-time All-Star. “I think it’s a unique player that has the competitiveness and the desire to play through that type of pain.”

Mitchell had 22 points, seven rebounds, and four assists to help the Jazz jump out to the 22 point lead, but saw his efficiency drop in the second half despite scoring 17 more points.

The guard shot just 4-13 from the floor but handed out five assists in his final 21 minutes on the court in the second half.

“As the game progresses it just becomes harder and harder on him because of his ankle,” Snyder said.

For the second straight season, Mitchell’s postseason heroics weren’t enough, and the Jazz became just the third team in NBA history to drop series in back-to-back postseasons when owning two-game leads.

“This hurts more than last year because we were up again,” Mitchell said. “This is going to eat at me for a long time.”

Mitchell will begin the summer rehabbing from his injured ankle which is almost surely cost him a chance to compete in the Tokyo Olympics before he can get back on the floor and continue to improve his game.

While Mitchell’s offseason won’t go as planned, the Jazz can find comfort knowing they have their postseason superstar locked up for the foreseeable future. The guard’s five-year max contract which he signed last summer only now kicks in heading into next season.

Conley’s Return

Mike Conley made his long-anticipated return to the lineup,ย  but unfortunately for the Jazz, it didn’t look like he was anywhere near ready to be back on the floor.

After missing the first five games of the series with the same hamstring injury that had plagued him throughout the regular season, Conley scored five points on 1-8 shooting, handed out three assists, and grabbed two rebounds, but turned the ball over six times in 26 minutes.

“I was told I wasn’t even going be able to play this series just last Friday,” Conley admitted after the tumulous series off the court. “So for me to be out there I didn’t know if it was going to be the last game or not so I had to had to try to move as best as I can.”

The All-Star was set to return ahead of game three but suffered a setback ahead while the team was in Utah for games one and two, and never had a real shot to help impact the series.

Now, the guard enters the postseason as one of the most high-profile free agents, and the Jazz already pushed up against a luxury tax ceiling that may make it hard to re-sign the guard.

“I used to tell the guys all season, cherish these moments as teammates, being around our coaches, the ride that we were on,” Conley said, “you don’t get to experience that every year and we may never be together as a unit ever again.”

At 33 years old and with a history of injuries, signing Conley may be difficult. At the same time, the Jazz got a state of life without their veteran point guard running the show against the Clippers and were eliminated in six games, even after the L.A. lost superstar Kawhi Leonard for games five and six.

Whichever direction the Jazz go in the offseason will have an easy justification, but is likely to be a difficult decision.

The Jazz will have locker room cleanout on Saturday before departing for the summer.

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