Clippers’ last shot snuffed out in wild finish as they lose lead, then Game 1 to Jazz
Of the eight teams remaining in these NBA playoffs, none by now is conditioned to overreact less to the first game of a series than the Clippers.
When Dallas couldn’t finish the job in the first round, leading 2-0, then 3-2, the Clippers did, rallying in seven games.
Their recovery skills will be tested again, after Tuesday’s 112-109 loss in the opening game of this second-round series to Utah — a missed opportunity made possible after committing the same sin that they had taken advantage of only days earlier.
Given a 14-point, first-half lead and a chance to beat the Western Conference’s top seed, the Clippers ran out of energy, and baskets. Given another short turnaround before Game 2 on Thursday, they must summon a more complete game to avoid a second consecutive ominous hole.
“We were the attackers, we were the aggressors,” Clippers forward Paul George said. “We just had a bad third quarter.”
Despite being outscored by 13 in the third, they still had a chance to tie on the final play, only to see Marcus Morris’ three-pointer from the corner enveloped by the right hand of 7-foot-1 Jazz center Rudy Gobert.
Morris recovered the ball but time had run out by the time he lofted another shot.
Video highlights from the Utah Jazz’s 112-109 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on June 8, 2021, in Salt Lake City.
The Clippers had a timeout to use but opted against it, coach Tyronn Lue said, so as to not allow Utah a chance to substitute Gobert for a smaller, more mobile defender and set up its defense. But Utah held firm, backpedaling in transition, with Joe Ingles running Kawhi Leonard off the three-point line before the Clippers All-Star passed to Morris, whose seven three-pointers made him the hero of Game 7 only two days earlier. Those were open looks, though. This time, he faced nearly impossible geometry to loft the ball over Gobert’s reach.
“I kind of faked help and knew they were going to go to Morris,” Gobert said.
Donovan Mitchell ignited Utah’s rally with 16 points in the third quarter, and he finished with 45 despite feeling nauseated before tipoff, according to Jazz coach Quin Snyder. At one point during the third quarter, while Mitchell scored 10 straight points, Jazz minority owner Dwyane Wade leaned over from his courtside seat opposite Utah’s bench and gave instructions to the young guard, who like Luka Doncic one round before him, shouldered his team’s offensive burden.
“Two different players, two different teams but obviously an All-Star-caliber player, skilled in same ways, one-on-one, pick and roll,” Leonard said of Mitchell. “He was just very aggressive. He’s going to keep shooting the ball and get his teammates involved. We all just have to take the challenge and try to slow him down.”
Having been in this position before, the Clippers intoned afterward in low voices how they would repeat the process that already won them a series. Watch film. Correct mistakes. Stay even-keel. Repeat.
But this was a prime chance to steal a game that seemed tilted against them from the start because of the combination of their fatigue and Utah’s six-day break.
“It’s no excuses,” Leonard said. “We had a 10-point lead at halftime. I felt we came out flat.”
The Clippers made 11 first-half three-pointers. They were 12-0 this season when making 10 or more before halftime.
Utah, meanwhile, missed 20 consecutive shots in the first quarter over a seven-minute span, becoming the first playoff team since Sacramento, in 2001, to miss that many in a row.
The Jazz were without guard Mike Conley because of a tight hamstring, and Bojan Bogdanovic didn’t score his first basket until eight minutes before halftime. Even against the same small-ball lineup that turned around the Clippers’ series against Dallas, with no one taller than 6-8, Gobert was made invisible during a first half in which he made just one of four shots. When he attempted to post up against George, Leonard cut in front of him to intercept the entry pass.
George made just four of 17 shots, calling himself “indecisive” after finishing with 20 points and 10 rebounds and hearing what felt like the entire Vivint Arena yelling “o-ver-ra-ted” and “Playoff P,” a derisive nickname spawned by past postseason struggles, throughout the second half.
“I like it,” George said. “That part doesn’t get to me. It’s all respect. I’ve had good games here, I’ve had bad games here. That’s part of this game, to be honest; crowd is going to be involved. You want that.
“I just didn’t shoot the ball well.”
Leonard, who like George was saddled with foul trouble, also looked less than the explosive version who dominated Dallas, scoring 23 points but needing 19 shots. The Clippers were outscored by 12 during his 36 minutes, a team-low plus-minus.
The Clippers were buoyed by their bench. Lue’s lineup choices signaled the physical toll their first round had taken: Eleven Clippers played in the first 14 minutes, including center DeMarcus Cousins — who began his first appearance of the playoffs by ripping a steal out of Gobert’s grip, then he was rewarded for his full sprint downcourt with a layup — center Ivica Zubac, guard Patrick Beverley and guard Luke Kennard, all of whom played sparingly the previous two weeks.
Kennard scored 18 points and Zubac added 11, but Terance Mann played only eight minutes. Lue said fatigue was why players including Nicolas Batum, who played 21 minutes and disappeared from the crunch-time lineup, had shorter nights than usual.
“We started off the game well and it’s just a thing where we have to carry it out for 48 minutes,” Kennard said. “I think we did a good job of communicating in the first half, throughout the entire first half, and then had a slower start to the third and definitely had some breakdowns. It’s stuff that we can fix.”
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