Clarkson, Forrest Help Carry Jazz Past Spurs

Dec 27, 2021, 10:27 PM | Updated: 10:33 pm
Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson takes a seat against the San Antonio Spurs (Photo by Ronald Cortes/...
Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson takes a seat against the San Antonio Spurs (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Jazz outlasted the San Antonio Spurs 110-104 in a battle of battered teams on Monday night.

The Jazz were without Donovan Mitchell who is scheduled to miss the team’s two-game road trip after suffering a back injury against the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday but got 23 points from sixth man Jordan Clarkson in the win.

The Spurs meanwhile were playing without Dejounte Murray but got 21 points from guard Derrick White in the loss.

Jazz Toy With Forrest In Lineup

Without Mitchell on the floor, Jazz coach Quin Snyder was able to toy with the team’s rotations in a way he hasn’t so far this season.

Traditionally when either starting guard has missed a game, the Jazz have gone to Joe Ingles to play the role of whichever starter is sitting, while upping the minutes of the other backcourt starter and Jordan Clarkson off the bench while keeping the substitution patterns as close to normal as possible

While Ingles still started, Snyder took the opportunity against San Antonio to play Trent Forrest for nearly 20 minutes off the bench, his season-high, and even closed the game with the second-year guard in place of Mike Conley.

To be clear, Conley was in the game until the final two minutes when the Jazz took a 12 point lead, leading Snyder to go to his bench. However, after a quick 4-0 run cut the Jazz lead to just eight, Snyder went back to Ingles and Rudy Gobert but left Forrest in to play the final 54 seconds of a close game.

There are likely a few reasons Snyder likes playing Forrest right now, some of which he’s spoken about directly, and a few that he hasn’t.

First, if the Jazz are looking for an additional defender on the perimeter that can help the team deeper into the season, Forrest has the inside track.

With his 6-foot-4 frame and 6-f0ot-7 wingspan, the guard has a good combination of size and athleticism to match up with opposing wings.

“Defensively, I just want him to keep doing what he’s doing,” Snyder said of Forrest. “I mean, he’s unique defensively with his length and also with his instincts.”

Clarkson was also complimentary of the guard’s defense after the win.

“Tonight he played 20 minutes, he didn’t score but he affected the game so much.”

Second, the Jazz have tried to limit the minutes of Conley this season, and having Forrest play extended stretches allowed Snyder once again to keep his All-Star point guard under the 30-minute mark for the game.

Conley had played 30 minutes or more in three of his last four outings which is probably on the high-end of how the Jazz would like to use him. He could have easily crossed that mark again with Mitchell out of the lineup, and may well get there on Wednesday against Portland, but Forrest allowed them to avoid that in San Antonio.

It can’t be lost on Snyder that last season Conley suffered the second of three hamstring injuries after taking on a bigger role offensively after Mitchell got hurt late in the season.

Conley would re-aggravate the injury in the playoffs after returning from a short rehab that robbed the Jazz of a potentially deep playoff run.

Finally, with COVID-19 wreaking havoc across the NBA, it’s more likely than not that the Jazz are going to have to be willing to change their lineups to adjust for players who enter the league’s safety protocol, and that could mean needing Forrest to finish games.

The Jazz have been lucky to avoid those scenarios so far this season, but even Snyder admitted before the game that that has more to do with luck to this point, and having to find those solutions feels more like a question of when, rather than if.

When it does happen, both Forrest and the Jazz should feel more comfortable closing games having already done it in a win over the Spurs.

Clarkson Continues Excellent Play

While Forrest played important minutes in Mitchell’s absence, it was the performance of Jordan Clarkson for the second straight outing that won the Jazz the game.

Mitchell has recently become the Jazz go-to option to open games, averaging 7.4 points in the first quarter of games, good for eighth-best in the NBA. Without him, the Jazz managed just 10 points through the first five minutes of the game.

After Clarkson checked in at the 6:49 mark of the first quarter, the Jazz scored 24 points to close the period, seven of which came from the guard who added two assists in the stretch.

Clarkson again became the Jazz go-to option in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 points in nearly nine minutes to close the game as the team needed an offensive weapon against the high-powered Spurs attack.

In total, Clarkson’s 23 points, eight rebounds, and five assists in 32 minutes allowed the Jazz to survive in San Antonio without their best player.

Snyder Offers Latest On Donovan Mitchell

Mitchell’s absence was apparent both to open and close the game for the Jazz who struggled to find offensive momentum early and then didn’t have a go-to option late as the Spurs cut their deficit to single digits.

Snyder offered an update on Mitchell’s injury and when fans can expect to see the guard back on the floor.

“Anytime you have a back issue or a hip or anything that involves your core that’s something that can potentially linger,” Snyder said.

That played into the decision to leave Mitchell in Utah rather than have him accompany the team on the road trip.

“It makes sense that he not sit on a plane, particularly on a longer trip like this,” Snyder said of the Jazz flying from Utah to San Antonio and then to Portland. “He’s just able to get access to our facility, and the treatments available to him there are just better than what we can do on the road.”

The Jazz coach even admitted to making a slight mistake handling Mitchell’s injury during the team’s win over the Mavericks on Christmas.

“I actually hit him on the back trying to give him some encouragement at one point, and he kind of winced,” Snyder admitted. “That didn’t go too well, because I wasn’t as aware as I needed to be. It’s kind of a reflex.”

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