The Utah Jazz have a 2-0 lead on the Los Angeles Clippers, winning both games at home without starting point guard Mike Conley.

Donovan Mitchell has been absolutely spectacular offensively, Rudy Gobert is showing the nation why is he is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year and Utah is getting important contributions from the rotation — Jordan Clarkson, Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles and Royce O’Neale.

Much has been said about the Jazz’s incredible offensive night on Thursday, where they shot 55.3% from the field and 51.3% from 3-point range, but a big key to Utah’s two wins has been containing superstar Kawhi Leonard.

Leonard has the ability to take over a game, bending it to his will. He had an argument for being the best player in the NBA during the 2018-19 season, when he led the Toronto Raptors to a championship over the Golden State Warriors and was named Finals MVP, most notably scoring 36 points in a series-turning Game 4 win.

The “Claw” has proven it during the 2021 playoffs as well, putting the team on his back during the final two wins against the Dallas Mavericks. Leonard scored 45 points on 72% shooting in a sensational performance in Game 6, then followed it up with a 28-point game on 67% shooting.

Related
Analysis: Donovan Mitchell had another standout performance and now the Jazz hold a 2-0 lead over the Clippers
‘Game 3 is all that matters,’ Reggie Jackson says after leading Clippers in Game 2 loss to Jazz

Through two games, though, it is Mitchell that is dominating, not Leonard.

Mitchell has scored 45 points and 37 points in Utah’s two wins. Leonard has scored 23 points and 21 points.

The Jazz aren’t going to hold the five-time All-Star to zero points. Leonard is a terrific basketball player and Utah won’t be able to completely shut him down. But it is significant that Leonard hasn’t been able to impact the game as much as he did in the Dallas series, thanks to Utah’s defense.

In Game 1, Leonard had nine points in the fourth quarter. In Game 2, he had only two points on 1-of-4 shooting. Those numbers are an absolute win for the Jazz.

Through two games, O’Neale and Bogdanovic have defended Leonard for the majority of the time, per NBA tracking data. Those two did a great job on Leonard on Thursday. Bogdanovic was the main guy guarding Leonard during the fourth quarter and he turned in a great performance. Bogey may have done it on a not-100% ankle, too, as he appeared to turn it during Game 2 and looked to be in pain for a minute, grimacing as stepped to the free-throw line after.

Take a look at how the Jazz guarded Leonard during the fourth quarter on Thursday.

Sometimes the Jazz would shade towards Leonard, or double-team him to get the ball out of his hands.

In this clip, Clarkson is guarding Leonard and Bogdanovic leaves Reggie Jackson to double-team Leonard. It forces the ball out of Leonard’s hands.

The end result probably wasn’t what the Jazz wanted, an open Jackson 3-pointer. Still, it illustrates some of the looks the Jazz threw at Leonard in various points in the fourth to get the ball out of his hands and make another Clipper beat them.

A lot of Utah’s defensive success on Leonard was due to Bogdanovic’s excellent one-on-one defense on Leonard.

In this clip, Leonard tried to muscle his way past Bogdanovic, but Bogey stood his ground, forcing a pass. The ball came right back to Leonard, who posted him up. Bogdanovic showed great footwork in the post and was able to contest the shot.

Again, Bogdanovic stays with Leonard and forces a pass.

Here, Bogdanovic is able to stay on Leonard throughout the possession, fighting through a screen to stay with Leonard and force a pass (though he didn’t box out Leonard well enough).

Bogey is able to stick with Leonard and steals the ball, forcing a jump ball to cap off a 14-2 Utah run.

“What Bojan did tonight should not go unnoticed. He epitomized, you talk about a warrior, the way he played on both ends of the floor,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said.

Bogdanovic limited Leonard when it counted in the fourth quarter. It was an impressive defensive showing.

“Bojan’s defense was superb. He’s been taking that role and taking that challenge,” Mitchell said.

Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) is defended by Denver Nuggets guard Facundo Campazzo during the first half of Game 2 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Wednesday, June 9, 2021, in Phoenix. | Matt York, Associated Press

Chris Paul and the Suns are firing on all cylinders

The Phoenix Suns continue to show why they are one of the best teams in the NBA.

The Suns beat LeBron James and the Lakers in the first round, have won five consecutive playoff games, and now are up 2-0 on MVP Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets.

Phoenix won Game 2 of the series 123-98 on Wednesday, the largest loss of the season for Denver. Granted, Denver is missing Jamal Murray, who — as Jazz fans can attest to — can greatly affect a playoff series.

On Wednesday, the Suns took a 5-2 lead with 10:37 left in the first quarter on a Jae Crowder 3-pointer and never looked back. Phoenix led the rest of the game, never letting up on the gas, a mark of a great team. Up 52-42 at halftime, the Suns outscored the Nuggets 71-56 in the second half to run away with a statement win.

Phoenix shot a blistering 54% from the field, including 52.2% from 3-point range, in the second half. Just two Denver starters — Jokic and Michael Porter Jr. — scored in double-digits. Meanwhile, every single Suns starter hit double-digits. No one player dominated for the Suns, everyone contributed.

Devin Booker had 18 points, Chris Paul had 17 points, Mikal Bridges had 16, Deandre Ayton scored 15 points and Crowder added 11 points. Ayton, who has had a coming-out party in these playoffs, had a double-double, and — as usual — Paul put his stamp on the game, dishing out 15 assists.

The Suns are really gelling as a team right now, and head to Denver with all of the confidence in the world as they try to get to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2010.

Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo tries to drive past Brooklyn Nets’ Nicolas Claxton during the first half of Game 3 of the NBA Eastern Conference basketball semifinals game Thursday, June 10, 2021, in Milwaukee. | Morry Gash, Associated Press

Milwaukee grinds out an important win over Brooklyn in an ugly fourth quarter

In case you didn’t watch the fourth quarter of Thursday’s game between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Brooklyn Nets, allow me to summarize:

Miss.

Miss.

Miss.

Miss.

In an era where scoring over 100 is commonplace, the Bucks gutted out an 86-83 win to grab their first victory of the series. Brooklyn leads, 2-1.

Milwaukee shot 26.9% from the field and only 12.5% from 3-point range in the final period. Brooklyn didn’t fare much better, shooting 33.3% from the floor and 28.6% from beyond the arc.

Despite the poor shooting, the Bucks were able to outscore the Nets — sans James Harden, who is still out with a hamstring injury — 19-18 in the fourth quarter to eke out the win. The Nets probably won’t shoot that poorly in the fourth quarter again, but credit the Bucks for locking down defensively and forcing the Nets to their lowest scoring game this season.

Khris Middleton led the Bucks with 35 points and Giannis Antetokounmpo had 33 as the two combined to score nearly 80% of Milwaukee’s points. Middleton was key down the stretch and Jrue Holiday scored the game-winning layup.

This win is big for the Bucks, who looked like a deer in the headlights during Game 2 against Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and the Nets. After the Bucks lost Game 1 by eight points, Brooklyn obliterated Milwaukee in Game 2, winning 125-86 as Durant had 32 points. Afterwards, Bucks players gushed about how good Durant was. Though Durant had 30 and nearly made the game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer Thursday, the Bucks are right back in the series, and they did it with defense.