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Were the Jazz better off with Kawhi Leonard in the Clippers rotation?

In closing the door on the Utah Jazz’s 2020-21 season, I went back on Wednesday night and rewatched the season-ending Game 6 of the Jazz’s series against the Los Angeles Clippers.

I wanted to see if anything would stand out more than it did when I watched the game live or rewatched portions the day after. Was there something in particular that could be blamed for the Game 6 collapse? Was there something more the Jazz could have done?

Honestly, the rewatch came across just as it had on first watch. The Jazz’s lingering injuries to Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley were too much to overcome. As the game went on it was clear that Conley was fatigued and that Mitchell was in pain. All of that was compounded by a hard fall that Rudy Gobert took in the opening quarter, which left him moving gingerly and unable to close out quickly.

The Jazz were overwhelmed by the speed and versatility of the Clippers’ switching defense and the otherworldly shooting the Clippers demonstrated in an elimination game. It was a perfect storm for the Jazz and there weren’t necessarily any surprises as I watched for a second time.

What might have been? Jazz never got the chance to give it their best shot in the playoffs

But there was a thought that I had as I watched the Jazz’s defense struggle to keep up with the Clippers’ offensive attack.

Many people have countered the argument that the Jazz’s injuries hampered their ability to get past the Clippers by saying that after Game 2 of the series the Clippers were without Leonard, one of the best players in the NBA.

Though as I watched Marcus Morris hit mid-range shots with ease and Terance Mann play the game of his life, it dawned on me that the Jazz had an easier time on defense when Leonard was playing.

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

That’s not a knock against Leonard. He truly is one of the league’s best talents. But the Jazz had found a formula that worked with him in the lineup. To the surprise of many, Bojan Bogdanovic was incredibly successful when defending Leonard on possessions when Leonard wasn’t being guarded by Royce O’Neale, who was also very effective.

Also, with Leonard on the court that meant that Mann wasn’t in the lineup as much and there were less minutes with Nicolas Batum.

With Leonard out of the lineup, Bogdanovic was guarding Morris a lot more and Morris had just enough of a size advantage over Bogdanovic to punish him with those mid-range jumpers, and rotations were more difficult with Batum in the lineup. Not to mention that Batum got incredibly hot from distance.

On the perimeter, Mann is a lot faster and more unpredictable than Leonard and it was nearly impossible for the injured Mitchell and Conley to keep up with the breakneck speed of Mann, who scored from every position on the floor.

I could be wrong. The Jazz’s flaws may have been exposed in the final four games of the series if Leonard hadn’t been injured and the Clippers would certainly be better off in the conference finals against the Phoenix Suns if they had Leonard’s services. But, it was just a thought. Matchups really do dictate everything in the postseason.

New with the Jazz

Mike Conley suffered a setback in his recovery from a hamstring strain, which has kept him out longer than expected

Stat of the week

No NBA team had ever overcome multiple 0-2 deficits in a playoff series until the Los Angeles Clippers did it this season against the Dallas Mavericks in the first round and the Utah Jazz in the second round. After beating the Jazz, the Clippers advanced to their first ever Western Conference finals appearance.

This week on ‘Unsalvageable’

Check out “Unsalvageable: A Utah Jazz Podcast”, hosted by Deseret News Utah Jazz beat reporter Sarah Todd and lifelong Jazz fan Greg Foster (no, not that Greg Foster). This week, they go over the Jazz’s elimination from the playoffs, what went wrong against the Clippers and the issues the Jazz need to address in the offseason. Plus, Sarah rants about the Philadelphia 76ers’ collapse in the Eastern Conference and how it’s time to stop coddling Ben Simmons.

New episodes come out every Wednesday. You can listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast and anywhere else you stream podcasts.

Special edition mailbag

This week I asked for Jazz fans to send me their favorite moments of the season. Many shared highlight plays, the Jazz clinching the No. 1 seed and moments between Jazz teammates that were heartwarming, like Jordan Clarkson being presented the Sixth Man of the Year award by Joe Ingles. But many others shared more personal moments and the following was a response that was very special. I’d like to thank Cheryl for sharing this:

Dear Sarah,

This year was a year of C’s for me — COVID, confusion, cancel culture, and the big C - CANCER. During the dark days of isolation and chemo and radiation, watching the Jazz became a joy and a passion. What I loved about watching them was the teamwork they showed and the fun they had. There were no prima donnas — they played as a team. They were generous with each other. They had fun!! I went to my first game at the end of March — I was so tired when I got home I couldn’t move for an hour. Totally worth it. Love this team. Love Coach Snyder. Love their 5 for the Fight campaign. Go JAZZ!!


Cheryl R.

From the archives

Donovan Mitchell reportedly declines chance to play in Tokyo Olympics
Jazz mailbag: Fans share special personal moments from throughout the season

This week in Jazz history  

On June 26, 2020, the NBA officially announced the 2019-20 season restart that would take place in the Orlando bubble. The announcement came with a schedule that set the Jazz as the first team to play in the bubble, which was fitting as it was Gobert’s positive COVID-19 test ahead of the Jazz’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on March 11 that led to the league suspending play.

Extra points

  • What’s to blame for the Utah Jazz’s season coming to an end? (Deseret News)
  • From a shocking Jazz playoff loss to roster uncertainty: Where does Utah go from here? (The Athletic)
  • The 2020-21 Jazz were brilliant but immutable (Salt Lake Tribune)
  • Utah Jazz exit interviews: Notable quotes as Jazz face the 2021 offseason (Deseret News)

Around the league

The Team USA roster is set and does not feature any Jazz players.

The Detroit Pistons will have the top pick in the 2021 NBA draft after winning the draft lottery.

Boston Celtics are hiring Brooklyn Nets assistant Ime Udoka to be the new head coach.

Up next: NBA conference finals 

June 24 | 7 p.m. | Game 3, Phoenix Suns @Los Angeles Clippers | ESPN

June 25 | 6:30 p.m. | Game 2, Milwaukee Bucks vs. Atlanta Hawks | TNT

June 26 | 7 p.m. | Game 4, Phoenix Suns @Los Angeles Clippers | ESPN

June 27 | 6:30 p.m. | Game 3, Milwaukee Bucks @Atlanta Hawks | TNT

View Comments

June 28 | 7 p.m. | *Game 5, Phoenix Suns vs. Los Angeles Clippers | ESPN

June 29 | 6:30 p.m. | Game 4, Milwaukee Bucks @Atlanta Hawks | TNT

June 30 | 7 p.m. | *Game 6, Phoenix Suns @Los Angeles Clippers | ESPN

* Game if necessary

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