‘We gotta have that hit-first mentality’: Clippers say they were too soft in Game 1, vow to match Utah’s physicality in Game 2
Both teams were whistled for 24 fouls in Utah’s 112-109 win in Game 1, but Los Angeles players and coaches say they weren’t allowed to be as physical on offense as the Jazz were
Having played a tough seven-game series against Dallas while the Utah Jazz were mostly resting, the Los Angeles Clippers refused to blame fatigue for their razor-close Game 1 loss in Salt Lake City on Tuesday night.
Rather, almost all fingers pointed at Utah’s superior physicality as the reason for the Jazz’s 112-109 win as Clippers coach Tyronn Lue and reserve center Ivica Zubac met with reporters via Zoom on Wednesday.
“We gotta do a better job of owning our space,” Lue said.
Game 2 is Thursday night (8 p.m. ESPN) at Vivint Arena, which surely will house a sellout crowd as loud and rowdy as Tuesday’s was. This time, the Clippers vow to match, or exceed, the Jazz’s physical play.
“We gotta have that hit-first mentality,” said Zubac, who had 11 points off the bench in 20 minutes, 25 seconds of playing time. “We gotta initiate that from the jump and that’s how we are going to give ourselves a better chance in Game 2.”
Lue mostly pointed toward how the Clippers played when they had the ball to illustrate what he means by playing more physical.
“We gotta have that hit-first mentality. We gotta initiate that from the jump and that’s how we are going to give ourselves a better chance in Game 2.” — Los Angeles Clippers center Ivica Zubac
“We need more physicality on the offensive side, like setting screens, holding our screens, I think attacking those guys,” Lue said. “They did a good job of getting into us, getting into our bodies, being physical, denying the next pass and getting up on us in the backcourt.”
The Jazz came up with a couple steals in the backcourt, which they turned into easy points. Those loomed large in what resulted in a three-point winning margin. Los Angeles committed only eight turnovers, but several were extremely costly.
“We had two or three turnovers trying to inbound the basketball. You can’t have that,” Lue said. “They tried to be physical with us, bring a physical presence. We didn’t meet that offensively, as far as attacking, as far as owning our space. We gotta do a better job with that, as far as attacking.”
The coach said the problem with upping the physicality on the defensive end is getting into foul trouble. Clippers star Paul George complained that the officiating was lopsided.
“It is playoff basketball,” George said Tuesday night. “The physicality just has to be allowed on both ends.”
Clippers star Kawhi Leonard picked up two fouls in the first eight minutes and had an unproductive first half before getting it going late. He finished with 23 points. George had 20, albeit on 4 of 17 shooting, while Luke Kennard added 18 off the bench but was a liability when he tried to defend Donovan Mitchell.
The Jazz’s All-Star guard had 45 points.
“We gotta do a great job of just shrinking the floor” to contain Mitchell, Lue said, noting that the Louisville product is a completely different player than Dallas’ Luka Doncic, who gave the Clips fits in the first round.
“He is slipperier,” Lue said.
The coach said it was evident that Utah wanted to wear the Clippers down as much as possible, and it succeeded.
“I thought the second half, we didn’t have a lot of pop, a lot of spunk,” Lue said. “We can’t get caught up in the referees and the officials. We gotta play through contact. … They did a good job of disrupting our offense.”
Both teams were whistled for 24 fouls. But it was Los Angeles’ stars, and not the Jazz’s, that got into foul trouble. Of course, Utah played without All-Star point guard Mike Conley, adding to the Clippers’ feeling that they let a winnable game get away.
“We gotta make our adjustments,” Zubac said. “Obviously, we missed a great opportunity to take Game 1 on the road and we wish we could have turned back time and done something differently. It is next-game mentality right now and we know what we are capable of. It is a long series and we know what we can do.”
As for Utah’s horrendous shooting in the first quarter — the Jazz missed 20 straight shots at one point — the Clippers said they can’t count on the team with the best record in the NBA doing that again.
“As we said, Utah was more physical last night,” Zubac said. “They were getting through all the picks that we set, so I feel like my biggest role in the offense is just to get guys open. … We can’t be the (recipients) of physical play.”