EditorsNote: changes to “right hamstring” in fourth graf; changes to “five days” in eighth graf; other minor edits
Donovan Mitchell scored 32 of his 45 points in the second half as the Utah Jazz rallied to defeat the Los Angeles Clippers 112-109 Tuesday night in Salt Lake City to take a 1-0 lead in the Western Conference semifinals.
After the Jazz made a big comeback in the second half to take a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter — after trailing by as many as 14 — the Clippers rallied late to put themselves in a position to force overtime.
Utah’s defense, however, denied them that opportunity. Rudy Gobert, the favorite to win a third Defensive Player of the Year award, blocked Marcus Morris’ last-second 3-point attempt after the Jazz defense denied Kawhi Leonard and Paul George from getting a good look in the final 15 seconds.
The Jazz took the early series lead despite the absence of All-Star point guard Mike Conley, who was sidelined due to a strained right hamstring. Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is scheduled for Thursday in Salt Lake City.
Along with Mitchell, Bojan Bogdanovic and Jordan Clarkson helped pick up the offensive slack for Utah with 18 points apiece. Joe Ingles added eight points with seven assists, while Mitchell also dished out five dimes.
Gobert finished with 10 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks, including the game-saver.
Leonard led the Clippers with 23 points and George added 20 points and 10 boards, but neither player shot well. Leonard made only 9 of 19 shots while George went 4-for-17. Luke Kennard played a big role in helping L.A. stay in the game despite its stars not shining as brightly as normal, coming off the bench to score 18 points.
The Jazz had five days of rest since defeating the Memphis Grizzlies 4-1 in the first round, and they looked rusty for much of the first half. Meanwhile, the Clippers were only two days removed from an emotional Game 7 win over the Dallas Mavericks, and they came out strong in the first two quarters.
With Jazz minority owner Dwyane Wade giving him pointers from the front row, Mitchell exploded in the third quarter to help Utah turn things around after the Clippers took a 60-47 halftime lead. Mitchell scored 16 points in the period, including the first 10 points for the Jazz, and helped Utah retake the lead at 72-71 on a fastbreak with a pass to Royce O’Neale.
The Jazz used back-to-back 3-pointers by Mitchell and Clarkson to take a six-point lead in the fourth quarter, eventually building it to 10.
The beginning of this series began as bizarrely as the Clippers’ last series in which home teams lost the first six games. Utah jumped out to a 10-2 run and seemed to be fine without Conley. That didn’t last long, though. The Jazz suffered an extended drought as the Clippers went on a 22-2 run to go up 24-12.
Utah ended up trailing 25-18 at the end of the first quarter after hitting just 5 of 28 shots.
The Clippers continued the pressure in the second quarter, taking a 13-point halftime lead thanks to some sizzling shooting from beyond the arc (11-for-23). L.A. held that big advantage despite a combined 3-of-13 shooting half by George and Leonard.
Kennard led the Clippers in first-half scoring with 11 points.
–Field Level Media