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Utah Jazz’s season comes to an excruciating end after a second-half collapse in Game 6

Donovan Mitchell’s ankle couldn’t take any more of a beating, the offense had gone cold, the defense couldn’t hold up. The Clippers beat the Jazz, 131-119, and advanced to the Western Conference Finals, winning the second-round series, 4-2.

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell lays on the court, surrounded by members of the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers.
Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, below, lays on the ground after rolling his ankle as members of the Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers stand by during the second half in Game 6 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series Friday, June 18, 2021, in Los Angeles.
Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press

Donovan Mitchell had the ball in his hands with 1:08 left on the clock. The Utah Jazz were trailing the Los Angeles Clippers by 10 points. He drove on Reggie Jackson, getting the foul call that would send him to the free-throw line. But before the high-pitched ring of the official’s whistle stopped, Mitchell slid and rolled his already injured ankle.

After the Utah Jazz earned the No. 1 seed through the regular season, had a 2-0 lead on the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round of the playoffs, it came down to this. Mitchell’s ankle couldn’t take any more of a beating, the offense had gone cold, the defense couldn’t hold up. The Clippers beat the Jazz, 131-119, and advanced to the Western Conference finals, winning the second-round series, 4-2.

Mitchell saw what coming as he lay on the court and slammed his hands against the floor at Staples Center. Frustrated and in pain, the Jazz’s chance at a title run was out of reach.

“It (expletive) hurt, there was just a lot going on and it was slipping away,” Mitchell said. “We tried to fight…we all did.”

If you’d only watched the first half of Game 6, you’d think the Jazz would be gearing up for a Game 7 back at Vivint Arena. Mitchell had 22 points through the first two periods, Jordan Clarkson had rattled off 21 points in the second quarter alone, including 17 straight points for the Jazz. The offense was buzzing and the defense was on a string.

But the second half was a collective collapse for the Jazz.

Through the final 24 minutes the Jazz were outscored 81-47. They blew a 25-point lead and found themselves scrambling at the end to make something, anything happen. The Jazz committed 17 turnovers through the game which the Clippers converted into 31 points, 11 of those miscues came in the second half.

As the Jazz’s offense cooled and their defense disappeared, the Clippers never let up. Second-year player Terance Mann scored 25 of his 39 points in the second half, Jackson scored 22 of his 27 points through that stretch and the Clippers shot an astronomical 73.7% from 3-point range in the final two quarters.

Unfortunately for the Jazz, letting Mann have room early on was by design. Made a starter when Kawhi Leonard was sidelined after Game 4 with a knee injury, Mann is not the Clippers’ best scorer, averaging seven points and just 1.4 3-pointers per game through the regular season. The Jazz wanted to see how Mann was going to attack. What Mann did was make the Jazz pay for not guarding him close.

“Salute to Terance Mann,” Mitchell said. “I’ve played against Terance since like middle school. He’s always been a dog and a warrior. He played his (butt) off. He got inserted into the lineup, and he’s been hooping ever since and he’s good. He’s really good. Tonight he showed it on the biggest stage.”

The reason that Mann was able to get so hot and the reason that the Clippers shot such a high percentage wasn’t just because the Clippers are a great offensive team. The Jazz were defensively untethered in the second half and though they might have felt as if they were fighting, they weren’t doing enough.

“There’s things that we didn’t execute on,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. “Beginning with being able to defend the ball in front. When guys were getting into the paint, they were also getting in when Rudy (Gobert) was reluctant to come over or we were late in our rotations and they took advantage of him with the ball movement with five guys out there that were making 3s. And they were all making them.”

As the Jazz’s defensive mistakes mounted, their offense followed suit. Bad passes, sloppy drives, a lack of movement and missed shots from every spot on the court led to the Jazz advantage almost completely disappearing. They went into the fourth quarter with just a three-point lead and by then, it was clear that the Clippers were the team that had the momentum and the will to win.

Last year the Jazz were up 3-1 against the Denver Nuggets in the playoffs. At the end of that series Mitchell laid on the court in the Orlando bubble in almost exactly the same spot that he laid on the court in Los Angeles on Friday night with just over a minute left to play.

Face down, staring at the hardwood, writhing in pain, Mitchell couldn’t help but think of the work that had gone into getting to this point, of how badly he wanted this season to go differently. Instead, the Jazz were up against the Clippers and blew a lead, again. They lost again, and their promising season came to a close.