Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George (13) argues with an official during the second half of Game 2 of the team’s second-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Utah Jazz on Thursday, June 10, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
The Los Angeles Clippers find themselves in familiar territory — down 2-0 in their second straight playoff series and seeing one player outplay their two superstars.
While the Clippers proved they could work their way out of a deep hole before, the challenges are steeper as they prepare to face the Utah Jazz on Saturday as the scene shifts to Staples Center for Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinal series.
The downtown Los Angeles court, which has been the franchise’s home since 1999, has not given them any advantages when it comes to the postseason. They have lost nine of their last 11 home playoff games. Last Sunday’s 126-111 victory over Dallas in Game 7 snapped a eight-game home playoff losing streak.
Paul George said after Thursday night’s 117-111 loss that they are approaching this two-game deficit the same way they approached being down to Dallas.
“We still feel we have a lot of possessions that we can clean up and a lot of possessions that are hurting us that’s our fault,” he said. “It’s a lot of uphill, but we’re optimistic that we can get this under control and try to tie this series up.”
When the Clippers rallied to beat the Mavericks, it marked only the fifth time in 32 instances that a team lost the first two games of a best-of-seven series at home and ended up winning it.
Their odds of coming back are even steeper this time. Teams that win the first two games in a best-of-seven at home go on to win the series 93.8% of the time (257 out of 274). That includes three first-round series this year.
“I think our confidence level is pretty high. Nothing is really changed for us. We are still sticking to the same script and trying to do what we do,” Utah guard Jordan Clarkson said.
If the Clippers are going to get back into the series, their 3-point shooting needs to improve. They are shooting 37.5% from beyond the arc in the playoffs after making a franchise record 41.1% during the regular season.
Defensively, the switch to a zone helped LA erase a 21-point, second-half deficit, but coach Tyronn Lue wants to see his team do better when playing one-on-one. Utah guard Donovan Mitchell has scored at least 37 points in the two games, but Bojan Bogdanovic and Joe Ingles have hit big perimeter shots when called upon.
“They put it down on the floor, attacking, and now we have to help and swing for three. We have to do a better job with our individual defense taking the challenge,” Lue said. “We know they thrive on driving kicks he can which check closing out to their other guys and keeping them under control.”
JAZZ AT CLIPPERS
Game 3, 8:30 p.m. MDT, ESPN
—NEED TO KNOW: The Jazz have won six straight postseason games as the series shifts to Los Angeles for the next two games. The Jazz and Clippers split the two regular-season games at Staples Center this season.
Mitchell is the first Utah player with consecutive games over 35 points since Karl Malone in 1998. He was 15 of 29 from the field, including 6 of 12 on 3-pointers, in Thursday’s win.
George is averaging 23.5 points for the Clippers, but is shooting just 34.3% from the floor.
—KEEP AN EYE ON: Kawhi Leonard’s stamina, which might be a big reason why he has been in early foul trouble during the first two games.
—INJURY WATCH: Clippers center Serge Ibaka will miss the remainder of the postseason after he underwent back surgery in Los Angeles on Thursday. … Utah guard Mike Conley remains questionable due to a hamstring.
—PRESSURE IS ON: Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr. has averaged 12.8 points and shot 11-19 (57.9%) from beyond the arc. In LA’s five losses, those numbers have dipped to 7 of 33 on 3-pointers (21.2%) and 9.5 points.