After tallying 32 of his 45 points in the second half of the Utah Jazz’s Game 1 victory in the Western Conference Semifinals, Donovan Mitchell picked up from where he left off in Game 2 against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Mitchell scored 10 of the Jazz’s first 12 points in the contest and was up to 30 on blistering shooting splits as the top seeded Utah put together a 21-point advantage barely three minutes into the second half.
The Clippers refused to roll over, just like in their grueling first round series versus the Dallas Mavericks, and made adjustments to trim the deficit. Head coach Ty Lue switched to a zone defense that sparked their comeback and leaned on Reggie Jackson, who churned out 16 of his 29 points in the third, to bring the lead back to single digits by the end of the period.
Los Angeles zeroed in on the hot shooting Mitchell, who had just seven more points after Lue changed up his defensive coverage, but the Jazz did not falter. Just like they have done all season long, they turned to Jordan Clarkson and Joe Ingles to take home a hard fought 117-111 win and put them up 2-0, moving within two wins of the Western Conference Finals.
Early on, Clarkson came off the bench and built on Mitchell’s momentum, scoring 15 first half points as the Jazz assembled a 13-point halftime edge. Then, in the face of the Clippers’ rally late in the third quarter, Clarkson scored nine more, highlighted by back-to-back threes to keep them at bay.
Clarkson, this season’s NBA Sixth Man of the Year, finished the game with 24 points and added two timely assists in the fourth quarter that came while the Clippers made a push to steal the win.
Los Angeles managed to grab a two point lead–their first and eventually only of the evening–after Jackson hit back-to-back threes with over six minutes remaining in Game 2.
Utah head coach Quin Snyder immediately called a timeout then coming out of the huddle, with the game hanging in the balance, Ingles took over the cudgels from Mitchell and Clarkson.
The 33-year-old Ingles, who started his second consecutive game with All-Star guard Mike Conley still sidelined by a hamstring strain, scored or assisted on five of the Jazz’s next six baskets to build a 10-point advantage with just over three minutes left in the match.
Ingles broke out of a slump that dates back to their first round encounter with the Memphis Grizzlies and finished with 19 points, four rebounds, and four assists. The Clippers made one last run in the waning minutes but fell short and are now just two losses away from elimination.
Mitchell collided with Paul George late in the game and seemed to hurt his ankle, but shrugged it off though this may linger and slow him down as the series shifts to Los Angeles. Clarkson and Ingles will have to take on even more responsibilities if Mitchell is indeed bothered by the injury and Conley continues to sit out, but these two have proven to be up to the challenge all year.
Clarkson has averaged over 19 points per game in the postseason, a slight improvement from his regular season numbers, and will have to continue his breakout campaign to give the Jazz their first Conference Finals appearance since 2007.
Another key for Utah is the return to form of Ingles, who entered the game averaging just 6.3 points and 3.5 assists. The runner-up to Clarkson in the Sixth Man of the Year race, Ingles is one of the more vocal players on the team and their emotional leader, but his production on the court is just as important to their success.
Ingles averaged 12.1 points and almost five assists per game in the regular season and his ability to space the floor with his efficient three-point shooting–a career-best 45.1% on over six attempts this year–while also creating opportunities for his teammates is invaluable. With the Clippers intent on limiting Mitchell, Ingles will be essential for the rest of the series in ensuring that the Jazz’s offense does not stagnate.
The points generated by Mitchell and the interior presence of the now three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert are a constant for the Jazz, but it is the flair of Clarkson and Ingles who turn them from a good team into a great one. The pressure that they put on the defense helps free up Bojan Bogdanovic, Royce O’Neale, and Georges Niang for open three pointers while giving Gobert and back-up Derrick Favors room for uncontested dunks and lay-ups.
Utah finds themselves with a 2-0 lead, but the Clippers just overcame a 0-2 hole against the Mavericks in the previous round and cannot be counted out, especially with the best version of Kawhi Leonard showing up over the past few weeks. The first two games at Utah have been thrilling and if they are any indication, Game 3 at Los Angeles will be a good one.