On Wednesday afternoon, the outlook for the most important Utah Jazz game in 14 years looked good.

Yes, point guard Mike Conley was out again and guard Donovan Mitchell’s ankle wasn’t fully healthy, but the Jazz had beat this LA Clippers team twice already and superstar Kawhi Leonard was out. Mitchell had turned in good-to-great performances in every single game this series.

Not since the John Stockton and Karl Malone years in the the late 1990s had a championship looked like it was in reach like this for Utah. Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer got close, advancing to the Western Conference finals in 2007, but didn’t really stand a chance against Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs, the eventual champions.

Utah was the best team in the NBA in the regular season and the playoffs looked wide open. LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, the defending champions, were bounced in the first round.

All the Jazz had to do was beat the Kawhi-less Clippers in Game 5 in front of a loud crowd at Vivint Arena to take control of the series and move one win away from advancing to a Western Conference finals date with the Phoenix Suns, who could potentially be missing star point guard Chris Paul, who is in the NBA’s health and safety protocols. Waiting for them in the NBA Finals, if they got that far, would probably be the Brooklyn Nets, and who knows if the Nets would be at 100%, with Kyrie Irving and James Harden dealing with injuries.

It was shaping up to be Utah’s best path to a championship in decades, possibly ever.

It started slipping away in the second half of Wednesday’s game.

Game 5 analysis: Jazz’s defense doesn’t show up as Clippers take a 3-2 lead in the series

Paul George was excellent, scoring 37 points, and so was Reggie Jackson, who was key late, but Utah’s defense was poor — again — allowing Los Angeles to score 119 points on 51% shooting from the field.

The Jazz struggled to make 3-pointers in the second half after a great shooting first half, missing 17 consecutive 3s and shooting 3 for 24 from beyond the arc in the second half. There’s the game right there.

Utah lost 119-111 and is down 3-2 in the series.

The Jazz had a chance late and looked to Mitchell to guide them down the stretch. But Mitchell, who has been phenomenal in the series, is clearly hurt and did not look like his normal self, unable to provide his usual late-game heroics. Down five with 30 seconds left, Mitchell was stripped by George on a 3-point attempt, then Royce O’Neale missed a 3-pointer. Ballgame.

The Clippers have seized all of the momentum from Utah by winning three straight games. This win, without Leonard, will give them even more confidence going into Game 6 at Staples Center. George proved the doubters wrong by shouldering the load without Leonard and was the best player on the court by a mile on Wednesday.

Utah’s season is hanging by a thread, and it doesn’t look good the rest of the way.

The Jazz have to win two consecutive games, including one at Staples Center, where they have lost twice this postseason. Neither game was particularly close. The Jazz lost by 26 in Game 3 and trailed by as much as 29 in Game 4. A late-game rally trimmed the final deficit to 14, but the reality was much worse than that. Utah was run off the court both times.

The Clippers have exposed Utah’s defense in not one, not two, but three consecutive games, finding wide-open shot after wide-open shot.

Conley has suffered a setback in his recovery from his hamstring injury, and though it is possible that he could play in Game 6, it’s far from a sure thing. He has yet to play in the series against Los Angeles.

Mitchell continues to play through pain from his ankle injury. On Wednesday he had his lowest scoring output of the 2021 playoffs — 21 points — after scoring 45, 37, 30 and 37 points in the previous four games. He wasn’t able to take over the game like he has in the past on Wednesday, which is a problem for the Jazz. When the offense slows down and the defense clamps down during the closing minutes of the game, much of the offensive burden is placed on Mitchell, who has to create.

His hurt ankle is affecting that part of his game, and it showed on Wednesday.

“For most of my life I’ve been able to push by, explode by, jump through people or over people,” Mitchell said. “For the first time in my career I’ve had to play on the floor. ... This is a learning process and it sucks to learn this in the playoffs but it is what it is. No excuses.”

Los Angeles will continue to double-team Mitchell early and force the ball out of his hands, trying to take him out of the game. Utah needs Mitchell to play a great Game 6 to have a shot at extending the series.

With their two star guards not at 100% and the defense struggling, the Jazz are really climbing uphill here.

“It’s tough when you’re trying different things that you normally do and you see spots that you can get to but you can’t. So, you’ve got to find a way to make it happen. It’s tough but I’ve got to find a way, otherwise we’ll be home,” Mitchell said.

Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons plays during Game 5 in a second-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks, Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Philadelphia. | Matt Slocum, Associated Press

76ers choke in loss to Hawks as Ben Simmons disappears

Somehow, the Jazz didn’t even have the worst loss of the night. That honor belongs to the Philadelphia 76ers, who blew a 26-point lead to lose 109-106 in front of their home crowd, which booed them as they walked off the floor. Like Utah’s Game 5, it was a critical game with the series knotted at 2-2. It was the second game in a row that the 76ers blew at least an 18-point lead.

Atlanta’s Trae Young was great, scoring 25 of his 39 points in the second half. Lou Williams was a key contributor as well, pouring in 13 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter to give the Hawks a spark.

What the game really came down to, though, was that no 76er besides Joel Embiid and Seth Curry made a field goal in the entire second half.

Curry had 25 points in the second half and Embiid, playing through a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee, added 13. All other 76ers combined scored a mere six points in the second half.

Ben Simmons was an afterthought on the court, only attempting one shot in the second half, which he missed. Simmons had just eight points in the game — attempting just four shots in the entire contest — and two points in the second half. It’s not like he wowed everyone with his other playmaking, dishing out four assists in the second half and tallying one steal and a block. He went 4 for 14 from the free-throw line.

The Sixers’ second superstar simply disappeared in the most crucial game of the entire season. Yes, Simmons’ game is not built around jump shooting, but to get that kind of scoring output from your star in a playoff game is not ideal.

76ers fans are not happy.

Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant (7) shoots a 3-pointer over Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton (22) during the fourth quarter of Game 5 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series Tuesday, June 15, 2021, in New York. The Nets defeated the Bucks 114-108. | Kathy Willen, Associated Press

Kevin Durant turns in an all-time playoff performance

Kevin Durant had a performance for the ages Tuesday as Brooklyn beat Milwaukee to capture a 3-2 lead.

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With Kyrie Irving out with a sprained ankle and James Harden playing on an injured hamstring — Harden scored just five points after appearing in his first game of the series Tuesday — it was all up to Durant.

He delivered, big-time.

Durant played every single second of Tuesday’s 114-108 win, scoring a 49-point triple double with 17 rebounds and 10 assists. Durant had 20 points in the fourth quarter and hit big shot after big shot, including a ridiculous 26-foot 3-pointer over Khris Middleton that gave Brooklyn a four-point lead with 50 seconds remaining.

We will see how gassed Durant is during Thursday’s Game 6 in Milwaukee (6:30 p.m. MDT, ESPN). He will again have to carry a large load with Irving out again. Harden will play, but it remains to be seen if he can be as effective as usual.

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