SALT LAKE CITY — With the way the Utah Jazz dominated the second half of Wednesday’s Game 2 of their playoff series against the Denver Nuggets behind a masterful performance from Donovan Mitchell, Jordan Clarkson’s first-half effort might be seen as a footnote, but his stellar play was huge for the Jazz when the game was still very much in the balance.
Clarkson wound up scoring 26 points on the day, just four behind Mitchell’s game-high 30, but his 16 in the first half were especially impactful as Utah was trying to gain separation, and his hustle on the defensive end of the floor garnered appreciation from his coach.
It’s no secret to Jazz fans at this point that Clarkson’s role is to create offense for a bench unit that severely lacks punch, but that can sometimes lead to him playing hero ball too much, which in turn can lead to bad shots. Utah deals with the negative, because no one else on the second team can really create.
(3) Denver Nuggets
vs. (6) Utah Jazz
Nuggets 135, Jazz 125 (OT)
Jazz 124, Nuggets 105
Jazz 124, Nuggets 87
Jazz 129, Nuggets 127
Nuggets 117, Jazz 107
Nuggets 119, Jazz 107
Nuggets 80, Jazz 78, Nuggets win series 4-3
On Wednesday, though, Clarkson was very poised in taking what the Denver defense was giving. Whereas Clarkson is known for his ability to attack the basket, on Wednesday, taking what the defense was giving meant shooting a lot of 3-pointers, and the Missouri product was making them.
In that first half, Clarkson made four triples, helping the Jazz capitalize on good offense.
“I’m always feeling good, to be honest with you,” he said. “I’m just coming out there with a free mind, going to take the looks that’s open and keep continuing to try to help the team win and try to impact the game. That’s all I can do when I’m coming in. That’s it.”
Much of Clarkson’s offense came as Utah got very little from the rest of its bench. With the Jazz down 18-17 with 4:22 left in the first quarter, he scored seven of the team’s final 10 points of the frame as it went on a 10-0 run only to close with Denver going on a 7-0 run.
In the second quarter, Clarkson caught fire, making three 3-pointers. The first stretched Utah’s lead from four to seven, the second tied things up at 42 after the Nuggets had rallied back and the last one started the 9-0 run that the Jazz went on to take a 13-point lead into intermission.
Although Clarkson has a big burden on Utah’s second unit, he said he doesn’t think about that as much as he does just trying to win.
“That’s the only motivation,” he said. “We take it one game at a time and one step at a time. We knew Game 1 was going to be a tough one, came out here and made adjustments (in) Game 2. That’s what it’s all about.”
Coach (Quin Snyder) told us attack the rim and kick out, look for open opportunities, when we have them take them, so it’s preached all the way down the line, and when we’re playing for each other and playing together, it works well for us.”
While Clarkson’s primary responsibility is to score, some hustle he put forth on one particular defensive sequence in the second quarter Wednesday drew praise from Snyder during the game.
“I’m just coming out there with a free mind, going to take the looks that’s open and keep continuing to try to help the team win and try to impact the game.” — Jordan Clarkson
Inside of four minutes until halftime, Denver ended up getting five tries on a possession. While it’s a negative that the Jazz had a hard time getting a rebound, Clarkson on multiple occasions hustled to make it tough for the Nuggets to get a good look.
Once Utah finally did get the rebound, Snyder called timeout, and as Clarkson approached the bench, Snyder embraced him.
“I’ve made a lot of strides defensively,” Clarkson said. “Being here, Quin talks to me tremendously about it. He’s helping me, he’s talking to me during every possession or stop, during a free throw, letting me know what I have to do, so I would say I have grown in that area and I’m just trying to keep continuing to get better.”