Burning out in the second half, there just wasn’t enough in the tank for the L.A. Clippers as they dropped their first road playoff game this season, 112-109 to the Mike Conley-less Utah Jazz Tuesday. Kawhi Leonard was far from his usual self, but still led the Clippers with 23 points (9-19 FG), seven rebounds, three assists and a steal. Aside from 20 points and 10 rebounds, Paul George had a tough night as he played with tired legs while logging in a team-high 37 minutes. Luke Kennard was a pleasant surprise once again off of the LAC bench, pouring in 18 points (7-9 FG) and four threes. Outscoring the 213 duo and garnering a shower of MVP chants from the Vivint Arena crowd during his postgame interview, Donovan Mitchell was electric for the Jazz with 45 points (16-30 FG, 7-8 FT), five assists, a steal and a block. Read on for our full Clippers vs. Jazz game recap.
When Game 1 at last began to grace the screens of Clipper Nation roughly 20 minutes past seven o’clock, the story of the opening frame was the offensive rust of the Jazz and the scorching stroke of one Cool Hand Luke Kennard. Off the tip, two factors immediately lived up the billing: Vivint Arena’s 17,000+ capacity crowd erupting with each and every play, and the breakneck pace and rate the Jazz fire from deep. Utah was playing so fast that TNT missed a couple of possessions while showing replays. The Jazz didn’t score a single two-point field goal in the frame with all five of their makes coming from downtown. Just as the Jazz had jumped out to an early 10-2 lead, their lack of a shooting rhythm showed its colors as Utah missed 21 straight field goals. The Clippers, offensively shaky as well outside of Kennard, went on a 22-2 run to go up by as much as 12. While the Clippers’ rebounding held up fine against Rudy Gobert despite starting small, it was the offensive crashing of Royce O’Neale that caused issues as Kawhi Leonard picked up two loose ball fouls off of his efforts. Patrick Beverley made his, albeit brief, return to the court. Outside of grabbing a board, finding Luke for 3 and getting a block, Pat Bev couldn’t get a shot to drop as he went 0-for-3 from the field. Through 12 minutes, the Clippers took a 25-18 lead.
Both offenses soon came alive as the Clippers edged out the Jazz 35-29 in the second period. For the Clippers, it was the role guys who led the way as Kawhi and PG continued to play offbeat with foul trouble. In his playoff debut as a Clipper, DeMarcus Cousins came in and provided a much-needed energy boost against Gobert. Striping the ball and getting on the hardwood to draw a charge, Cousins stifled the Tower in his brief four minutes of action while also knocking down shots. As Kennard continue to chug along as the Clippers’ leading scorer, Nicolas Batum, Terance Mann and Reggie Jackson made some crucial plays to keep LAC afloat with a combined 14 points. After taking 20 triples in the first quarter, Utah took just seven threes as they looked to get looks closer to the rim. After the Clippers led by as much as 14 with 4:30 left, continued questionable calls and inbound blunders caused by the ramped up pressure of the Jazz brought the contest back within single digits. Thanks to a pair of treys by Jackson and Batum to bail them out, the Clippers capped off their solid first half up 60-47.
Walking a needle-thin tightrope with the lead in the balance all quarter long, L.A.’s 213 duo continued to look completely gassed as the Clipper offense hit a lull in a dreadful third quarter. Scoring 10 straight points out of the locker room, Donovan Mitchell rallied the Jazz as the Clips came out 0-for-5 from the field. The biggest sign of the Clippers’ lack of wind was the Jazz owning the glass 13-5 on rebounds. Outside of Kawhi willing some shots to go in and occasional connections from Rajon Rondo to Ivica Zubac, the Clips limped to the final frame square with the house at 79.
The fourth quarter was closer than expected, but Leonard and George’s combined 21 points in the period ultimately could not get the Clips over the hump to steal it as Mitchell and the Jazz routinely found ways to sink triples and get to the line. After fouling out with 6:13 left to go, Reggie Jackson was replaced by Rondo, who joined Tyronn Lue’s closing unit of Kennard, George, Leonard and Morris Sr. While the Clippers somehow continued to trade blows with the Jazz, mostly with plays out of timeouts and dead balls, they missed a handful of good looks from deep during key moments to regain the lead. Down the stretch, the game was simple for Utah—hand No. 45 the ball, have Kennard’s man set the screen and take the look that results from the chaos. In the final moments, PG and Kawhi were able to whittle the Jazz lead down to three, but a block by Gobert on Morris Sr.’s potential game-tying trey iced it.
Clippers vs. Jazz Game Notes
- Matchup Mix-up: The Clippers thrived in the first half thanks to some huge lifts from a wide supporting cast. However, after going 11-deep and still having to watch Leonard and George play with dead legs in crunch time, you can’t help but feel as though Lue and co. need to make some major rotation adjustments for Game 2. While Batum played just 21 minutes, Mann and Beverley tallied under 10 each and were both left out of the Clippers’ rotation in the second half.
- Making the Winning Plays: A sign of the Jazz playing with much more juice in the second half, they flipped both the rebounding and blocks advantage from 24-22 and 5-1 L.A., respectively, to 24-19 boards and 5-1 rejections in favor of Utah after the locker room break. Going small failed tonight, but perhaps after some more time for the wings to mentally reset from the last series, along with more Boogie and Zu minutes, the small-ball lineup will regain its luster.
- Slow the Spida: From one young star to the next, the Clippers have plenty of room to improve in the area of containing Mitchell. Whether it’s with George and Leonard simply answering the call or Pat Bev—who held Mitchell to 4 of 14 from the field during the regular season— stepping up, his 45 points tonight saved the Jazz tonight. There is a silver lining though for L.A. in that they were still able to almost pull this one out with him going off, that is unless Conley returns to the mix.
- Up Next: The Clippers will remain in SLC to play Game 2 of their second round series versus the Utah Jazz at Vivint Arena on Thursday, June 10 at 7 p.m. PT.
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