LOS ANGELES — The Utah Jazz are coming away from their extended stay in L.A. with two more wins after beating the Lakers on Friday night and then the Clippers on Sunday night.
While the Jazz were able to comfortably extend their lead in the fourth quarter against the Lakers, they had a harder time with things against the Clippers.
The Jazz were trailing the Clippers in the fourth until they tied things up with 4:57 left on the clock, after a couple of Malik Beasley free throws. They fought their way back into the game with a targeted effort in the final minutes and then pulled off some exceptional basketball on both ends to come away with a 110-102 win.
Emphasis down the stretch
A couple of important things happened on the Clippers side in the fourth quarter that dictated how the Jazz were going to handle things. First, Ivica Zubac subbed out with 8:49 left, loosening the Clippers’ rim protection a little bit.
The Jazz hadn’t been getting what they wanted on the perimeter and some of the shots just weren’t falling, so they started attacking downhill, hard. Mike Conley was able to get in the lane and power his way to a couple of buckets, including one which also came with an and-1 foul from Nicolas Batum, which brings me to the second point.
That foul on Batum put the Jazz in the bonus for the remainder of the game and they used both that and the lack of protection at the rim as a catalyst to get things back on their side.
Ten of the Jazz’s 26 fourth-quarter points were earned at the free-throw line, including five of Collin Sexton’s nine fourth-quarter points.
One after another the Jazz attacked downhill, used cutters, used the threat of space and made the Clippers pay for their foul trouble.
“Once we were in the penalty and we knew we could be a little bit more aggressive getting to the rim, there was a huge emphasis on us trying to get as many guys into the paint, attacking the rim, making plays for guys,” Conley said. “Ultimately, we got to the free-throw line when we needed to and just kind of slowed the tempo of the game down.”
Final two plays
At the 4:14 mark the Jazz ran a pick-and-pop play between Conley and Kelly Olynyk that ended up getting Beasley wide open on the weak side for a corner 3.
“We were trying to get to that action and we’d worked on it earlier in the week,” Conley said.
In the final moments of the game the Jazz were leading but wanted to give themselves some breathing room and put enough distance between themselves and the Clippers to finish the night off the right way. They went back to the same action and utilized it in a different way, in consecutive offensive possessions to ice the game.
“A few plays before that I’d found Kelly on the opposite post and he made a play for Beas and we saw that it worked,” Conley said. “So we were like, hey, if we can get to that action somehow, especially with how aggressive they’re playing, we can find a cutter or a guy on the weak side and it would be good for us. And we were able to take advantage of it.”
In the Jazz’s final two offensive possessions of the game, they ran the same pick-and-pop action with Conley and Olynyk, but instead of finding a shooter on the weak side, it was a weak side cutter that caught the Clippers off guard.
The first time, Sexton slashed into the paint where Olynyk found him for an easy dunk. The Clippers called a timeout and put Zubac back in the game.
The next time down the court the Jazz ran the same play, and although Sexton was able to get the ball again on a cut, the defense was quicker to recover around him. But that left Lauri Markkanen open for a wrap-around pass from Sexton and again, the Jazz scored.
“Collin is showing us that he has really good instincts as a cutter,” Jazz head coach Will Hardy said. “He’s such a forceful player going to the rim. I thought he did a really, really good job executing on the weak side.”
Lauri Markkanen vs. Paul George
It’s no secret that Paul George is an incredible basketball player. He’s one of the most pure and lethal scorers in the league and he’s a really tough cover.
“Very tough,” Conley said. “He’s one of the better offensive players the game has seen, probably since he’s been in the league, and he keeps getting better. He has so many ways to get to the rim, ways to get to his spots and make shots.”
That was proven to be true in the first half when George scored 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting. He was getting everything he wanted and even when he had a hand in his face he’s such a long player that he was able to shoot over the top of guys and make it look easy.
But in the second half, George scored just seven points in the third quarter and three points in the fourth. A lot of that was thanks to the defense of Markkanen.
“I thought Lauri did a very good job of making Paul George work really hard, not just to get shots off, but to get the ball,” Hardy said. “I just was really proud of the way the guys competed on the defensive end and I thought it started with Lauri on Paul George.”
We’ve talked a lot this season about the emergence of Markkanen as a versatile offensive player and how he’s doing more than he ever has in the NBA and expanding his game to greater heights. But, Markkanen also deserves some credit for his improvement on the defensive end. To slow down a player of George’s caliber is no small feat, and Markkanen did that on Sunday with strength and humility.
“I’ve said it multiple times that, there’s great players in this league that are gonna get theirs and obviously, he had 34,” Markkanen said with a bit of a sigh and laugh. “I was just trying to stay on his body, make life difficult, kind of pressure him. Obviously I’m a little taller than he is, so I kind of know that I can have a little bit of distance with him and still challenge the shot. You just try to make it difficult for him and make other guys beat us. I mean, he did a great job. He was good today.”