Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.
Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 112-109 win over the Los Angeles Clippers from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Look at that defense on Kawhi Leonard and Paul George
My Jazz beat writing partner Eric Walden has the lowdown on the most impressive offensive part of the game: Donovan Mitchell. What an absurdly fantastic performance from that guy — he outscored Kawhi Leonard and Paul George by himself.
But there are two parts to that: Mitchell scoring, and the two Clippers stars not scoring. And boy oh boy, did the Jazz play some terrific defense on Leonard and George.
Their strategy was relatively simple, but it’s always easier said than done. They worked to deny the ball to Leonard as much as possible, making him expend energy to even get the ball. That was usually a job for Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, Miye Oni, and especially Royce O’Neale. Then, they wanted to stay connected through screens no matter, what, even if that meant switching Rudy Gobert or Derrick Favors onto the stars.
So, here’s an example: Oni’s guarding George, Favors comes up on the pick and roll, and stops George on the drive. From there, it’s a panic kick-out to Batum, who takes the three. But Georges Niang is in great position to contest the shot — the Jazz will take this.
Or, if George backs it out, the Jazz showed good ability to stay in front. Here is the result of one of those plays: George over-dribbles, Gobert gets a contest, and it’s a tough mid-range look for PG13.
I think the Clippers felt confident of their ability to attack the Jazz’s switches in isolation. But that didn’t play out at all: they only scored 0.64 points per possession when they worked in isolation. That’s terrific from the Jazz against one of the best isolation teams in the league.
“By any means necessary,” Donovan Mitchell said. “That’s what you saw from us tonight.”
2. Jazz win the battle of possessions
During the regular season, Jazz opponents got 3.4 more shots up than the Jazz did per game. That’s because the opposing team usually won the battle of possessions — they got more combined offensive rebounds and forced more turnovers than the Jazz did.
But tonight, the Jazz won the possession battle by six — they got six more shots than the Clippers did. And it was because they were fantastic on the glass and even more fantastic in taking care of the ball.
First, the glass: the way the Jazz fought on the boards tonight was otherworldly, some of the best rebounding I’ve ever seen from them. As usual, Royce O’Neale deserves huge plaudits for the way he was able to rebound — he got 11 by himself.
O’Neale is 6-4, Leonard is 6-7. He is also famous for getting rebounds with his huge hands — as he once famously said, “Board man gets paid.” Leonard spots O’Neale coming on this play, plans for him, and O’Neale just beats him to the spot, getting two free throws and a key foul on the Clippers’ best player.
Favors was terrific too. Again, this is just an effort play: Favors gets the rebound out of sheer effort, attacking the rim and poking the ball away from Zubac, then hustling to get the loose ball.
The Jazz had 12 offensive boards compared to the Clippers’ nine. I think the Jazz can afford to be aggressive on the offensive glass, because the Clippers are not usually a very aggressive transition team. They ranked 25th in the league in transition possessions, according to Cleaning The Glass.
It is more difficult to show you video of the Jazz not turning the ball over — most plays are not turnovers, after all! But I think that the Jazz only had seven turnovers all night is a sign of some of the good offense the Jazz played in this game.
Despite the Clippers’ quality individual defenders, the Jazz maintained control of the ball at all times. Bogdanovic had zero turnovers, and despite all of the possessions he used, Mitchell only had three. That’s excellent execution.
3. The chess match
Since we’ve been trying to predict the way that the Clippers would attack this series, I think it’s worth noting all of the things the Clippers chose to do in the “chess match” of the series.
• They started the game with their small lineup: Reggie Jackson, Leonard, George, Nicolas Batum, and Marcus Morris. That was a little bit of a surprise, but it actually got beaten pretty badly: the Jazz outscored the Clippers by 7 with that lineup on the floor. Overall, whenever the Clippers went small, the Jazz outscored the Clippers by 8. That’s a big win for Utah.
• Luke Kennard played a whopping 29 minutes in the game. He hasn’t played that much when both Kawhi and PG were available since January 15 — for the most part, the Clippers have gone away from playing Kennard, because he can be picked on defensively.
The Jazz, indeed, picked on him defensively. I was shocked at how much he played over Nicolas Batum, and I think it helped the Jazz, even though Kennard was shooting the lights out offensively.
• It was interesting to see Ty Lue choose to play Reggie Jackson as much as possible, though he ended up fouling out. Then, his second choice to play point guard was Rajon Rondo, not Patrick Beverley. But Rondo isn’t as good of a shooter as Beverley is, which let the Jazz do some more aggressive defensive rotations.
• In a big surprise, DeMarcus Cousins played for the first time all playoffs. He had a terrific first minute of the game, ripping the ball away from Gobert and getting an and-one. Quin Snyder called a timeout, seemingly told his team about the Cousins scouting report, the Jazz played better against him, and Cousins didn’t play for the rest of the game.
And some of the things the Jazz chose to do:
• Gobert started the game guarding Batum, but when Batum came out, he guarded Marcus Morris.
• With Conley out, the Jazz played Miye Oni 7:42 — much more than I thought they would. He got two key offensive rebounds, but also four fouls in his less than eight minutes, most of which came while trying to chase other offensive rebounds. That’s the Oni trade-off in a nutshell, I think.
• Mostly, they stayed true to their word: rather than trying to line up well with what the Clippers were doing, they played their style of basketball. They set the tone for the matchup, and after a slow first half, it worked.
That’s what you want from the No. 1 seed.