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Analysis: Utah Jazz’s defense delivers first punch in series against LA Clippers

The Utah Jazz beat the Los Angeles Clippers 112-109 on Tuesday night at Vivint Arena in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.

Clippers say they will be more physical in Game 2 after getting manhandled by the Utah Jazz in Game 1 on Tuesday, June 8, 2021.
LA Clippers guard Paul George (13) and Utah Jazz forward Georges Niang (31) dive for the ball during game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, June 8, 2021.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

The Utah Jazz beat the Los Angeles Clippers 112-109 on Tuesday night at Vivint Arena in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.

High Notes

  • The way the Jazz opened the game on defense was about a million notches above how they started out any of the five games in the previous series. If that wasn’t enough of a difference, the Jazz’s defense continued to get even better as the game went on.
  • Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors and Royce O’Neale were incredibly strong on the glass, and each one of those guys were incredible on the defensive end. O’Neale was on Kawhi Leonard through the majority of the game and stuck to him like glue. Gobert was every bit a Defensive Player of the Year and played masterfully, capping it off with the game-clinching block on Marcus Morris Sr. to seal the win. Also, I can’t even begin to describe how much of a difference there is between regular-season Favors and playoff Favors. He was unreal.
  • The defensive highs are expected from those three players, but as the game went on, Bojan Bogdanovic switched onto Leonard quite a bit and his defensive intensity was not something I was expecting. Bogdanovic and Jordan Clarkson both really stepped up on that side of the ball and were a huge reason the Jazz were able to get this win.
  • Donovan Mitchell is a superstar. Full stop. Period. He scored 32 of his 45 points in the second half. He scored the first 10 points of the third quarter, sparking the Jazz run that cut their 13-point halftime deficit. He was attacking all the right spots and stepped up when the team needed him the most. He stopped himself from sending a baseball pass across the court to Bogdanovic in the fouth quarter and instead attacked Reggie Jackson, forcing Jackson to foul out of the game. Mitchell made smart decisions in instances that he wouldn’t have in the past. Oh, and I should probably mention that he was sick, nauseous and lightheaded. He had to dig down deep to find something to lead the Jazz to victory and that is the stuff of superstars.

“He is just amazing, an amazing person. He’s a great player. He saw that we are down 13 at halftime and probably thought ‘I’ve got to take over the game, I’ve got to be extra aggressive.’ Especially in the third quarter, he got us back in a game and gave all the energy to the crowd. He gave us energy, the players. Like I said, it’s just an amazing, amazing performance from him.” —Bojan Bogdanovic on Donovan Mitchell

  • The Jazz missed 20 consecutive shots in the first quarter and were 3 of 17 from 3-point range before a pair of Clarkson treys ended the drought. Those might seem like low notes, but the impressive thing was that the Jazz didn’t let their poor shooting dictate their defense. To miss that many shots and only be down by 13 at the half is honestly impressive. They held Leonard and Paul George, two amazing offensive players, to a combined 12 points in the first half. Truthfully, the Jazz’s shots were good looks. They were generating exactly the type of shots that they wanted and they didn’t stop shooting them and didn’t stop creating them. This is one of the best shooting teams the NBA has ever seen and eventually those shots are going to fall, as they did in the second half.

Low Notes

  • Joe Ingles is just off so far in these playoffs. He was more aggressive on Tuesday night than he ever was against the Grizzlies but he couldn’t seem to get his shot going and there were a couple of times that he made some bad decisions in the pick-and-roll that we usually don’t see him make. He was better defensively and that’s really where it counted but it would be nice to see him shake himself out of whatever funk he’s in.
  • Luke Kennard plays basketball left-handed (he does everything else with his right). He is going to drive that way. The Jazz let him get away with stuff biting on fakes to his right more times than they should have.
  • The Jazz did a great job of containing Leonard and George in the first half but let Jackson and Kennard get going, and a lot of that was on Mitchell’s defense. Correctable mistakes, but notable.

“I was getting my (expletive) kicked. Individually in the first half on both ends of the floor, I wasn’t making the right reads. Luke hit a bunch of shots on me, Reggie hit a bunch of shots on me. In those situations I was being lazy and letting that fatigue kind of get to me.” —Donovan Mitchell

Flat Notes

  • In the fourth quarter Kennard and Rajon Rondo were getting torched defensively and offering nothing on the other end of the floor. I don’t understand why Ty Lue didn’t take them out and instead bring in Nicolas Batum and Patrick Beverley.
  • Speaking of Beverley, I noticed him taking a few dead ball 3s trying to get himself into a rhythm. Kevin Garnett made the dead ball block famous, but it’s always something I’ve been a fan of. There’s no reason to let the opposition see the ball go through the hoop during stoppage. Don’t let them get confidence when you can control the situation.