Clippers rally but can’t stop late surge from Jazz in loss
Guarded by a 7-foot, two-time defensive player of the year, Clippers forward Paul George hesitated with his dribble ever so slightly Friday night behind the three-point arc inside Salt Lake City’s Vivint Arena. Gauging the distance between himself and the outstretched arm of center Rudy Gobert, George fired a three-pointer that cut what had been a 19-point Jazz lead to just one. Just over three minutes remained in Friday’s fourth quarter.
The basket capped a stunning rally — the second of the night, however, that the Clippers could not sustain when it mattered most.
Just as it had closed the first half by scoring the final eight points to turn away a Clippers rally, the Utah Jazz saved their best execution for the last minutes of the second half, as well, and scored seven consecutive points after George’s three-pointer to send the Clippers to a 106-100 defeat.
The Clippers (4-2) couldn’t overcome their 39% shooting, including off nights from Kawhi Leonard, who made eight of his 19 shots for 20 points, and Paul George, who finished with 25 points on six-for-22 shooting.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said it made perfect sense for Becky Hammon to take over as coach after his ejection since the Lakers were her scout team.
Utah, meanwhile, needed a 33-point game from Mike Conley, including seven three-pointers, to survive while playing its second game in as many nights.
“You’re not going to make shots every night,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said, “but we kept defending, we kept playing the right way, we just couldn’t get shots to fall. It just says a lot about trusting what we were trying to do, the process of what we’re trying to do offensively and defensively. They executed pretty well defensively. I just thought our offense, not making shots, hurt us.”
The Clippers’ stars compensated in other ways, with Leonard joining Danny Manning as the only players in team history to record at least 20 points, 16 rebounds, nine assists and three blocks. And George was a force defensively, responsible for all six of the Clippers’ steals. He became the third player in team history, and the first since 1994, to finish with at least 25 points, eight rebounds and six steals.
But those contributions couldn’t overcome the Clippers’ inconsistent shooting at the start and finish of each half.
After a hook shot by Ivica Zubac created a two-point Clippers lead with 4:35 remaining in the first quarter, Utah (3-2) closed the quarter on an 18-4 run to lead by 12.
When Conley made his third three-pointer less than a minute into the second quarter, after the Clippers’ defense allowed Joe Ingles to drive into the paint and create an easy passing lane to the corner, Lue called timeout.
The adjustments worked. Mired in a poor-shooting start, George grabbed five steals, a career-high for any half, and the defense tightened as the Clippers outscored Utah 25-6 over their next nine minutes to trim an 18-point deficit to just one. But cutting Utah’s lead turned out to be easier than creating the Clippers’ own.
The Jazz scored the final eight points of the first half and as they scored the first nine of the third quarter, to take a second 18-point lead, starting guard Patrick Beverley asked to come out of the game to catch his breath, Lue said.
With little offensive production coming from a bench that combined to score 27 points, the Clippers played all five starters at least 17 minutes in the first half.
“The game was getting out of hand so we threw our starters back in to try to at least make a game of it before halftime,” Lue said.
Highlights from the Clippers’ 106-100 loss to the Utah Jazz on Friday.
Utah’s lead grew to 20 midway through the third after Conley’s sixth three-pointer — just one fewer than the entire Clippers roster had made to that point.
“He was great,” Lue said. “He was special.”
For the first 8 minutes and 55 seconds of the fourth quarter, so were the Clippers, whose 29-11 run over that span was capped by George’s three-pointer, one of five he made Friday, though on 13 shots. Then their offense faltered, again, and so did any chance of completing a comeback.
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