Last Thursday night, the Utah Jazz were sitting pretty pretty, as they had claimed a 2-0 lead in their Western Conference semifinal playoff series against the LA Clippers with two wins at home.
Five days later, are the Jazz in trouble?
As the series shifted to Los Angeles, the Clippers won both Games 3 and 4 to tie things up at two games apiece. Perhaps that result was not wholly unexpected — teams usually perform better at home than they do on the road. What may be of concern as the series goes back to Salt Lake City, however, is the manner in which LA won.
Whereas the two Utah wins were not decided until late (the final possession in the case of Game 1), the Clippers won their two games very comfortably. They’ve done it largely with defense, smothering Donovan Mitchell for large stretches, and their switching everything has made it virtually impossible for the Jazz to get into the paint.
This has made Utah’s offense become isolation heavy, with players trying to go one-on-one with their defenders. That is the exact opposite of what made the Jazz’s offense one of the best in the NBA this season, as they rely on ball movement and breaking the paint to generate open 3-point looks and other good shots.
Bad offense can make it tough to defend, and Utah has definitely had its fair share of struggles on that end of the floor as well. Beside transition offense for LA, the Clippers have generated a bunch of good looks from behind the 3-point line, quite a few of which have come as the Jazz just have been lazy in not being forceful on closeouts.
Whether momentum in a series is a real thing or not can be debated, but if it is, LA certainly has it at this point, and the question becomes whether Utah can respond in Game 5 on Wednesday night. The Clippers have been so stifling defensively, and it’s fair to wonder if the Jazz have the personnel to overcome that.
If starting point guard Mike Conley can come back, that should take some of the attention off Mitchell, but even then, does LA have too much size defensively? For the Jazz defensively, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have gotten going in the past two games. Does Utah have any answers to try to stop them while also being able to limit other 3-point shooters?
The Clippers have certainly found things that are working to beat the Jazz, and if Utah can’t find counters, it could spell trouble for its season extending beyond this series.
Elsewhere in the NBA playoffs ...
- Listen, Jazz fans don’t like Phoenix Suns guards Chris Paul and Devin Booker. That doesn’t need to be rehashed here. But in the spirit of giving credit where credit is due, kudos to the Suns for clinching a spot in the Western Conference Finals with a sweep of the Denver Nuggets. Yes, the Nuggets were ravaged by injuries and the Suns were healthy, but Phoenix has done something by getting to the conference finals that many have doubted they could do throughout the season.
In the Game 4 closeout, Paul was incredible with 37 points, seven assists and three rebounds and Booker was right beside him with 34 points, 11 rebounds and four assists. Many are still doubting that Phoenix can beat the winner of the Jazz-Clippers series in the WCF, but for now let’s at least appreciate what the Suns are doing.
- Both of the Eastern Conference semifinal series have gotten spicy, as they are knotted up at two games apiece. The Brooklyn Nets-Milwaukee Bucks series was looking like an easy one for the Nets until the Bucks stole Game 3 and the Nets played minus both James Harden and Kyrie Irving in Game 4. Harden is planning on playing in the pivotal Game 5 Wednesday.
- Maybe we’re not giving the Atlanta Hawks enough credit, but their series against the Philadelphia 76ers might be a case where not all 2-2 series are the same when compared to the others in the league that are knotted up. Expect the 76ers to still win, but props to the Hawks for being much more competitive than many probably thought they would be.