Los Angeles Clippers forward Nicolas Batum (33) defends as Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, left, goes to the basket during the first half of Game 2 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series Thursday, June 10, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Donovan Mitchell’s scoring sent the Utah Jazz into the lead and their defense closed the door.
Mitchell scored 37 points and the Jazz forced nine straight misses down the stretch to outlast the Los Angeles Clippers 117-111 on Thursday night and take a 2-0 lead in their Western Conference semifinal series.
Mitchell clinched the game with a driving shot with 43 seconds remaining but then appeared to hurt his leg slightly on a foul by Paul George with 10 seconds to play. He made one of two free throws after hobbling to the line.
“I’m fine now. I walked in here and if you want me to sprint for you, I can. I’m good,” Mitchell said.
The guard is the first Jazz player with at least 35 points in back-to-back playoff games since Karl Malone in 1988, but the points became more difficult as the game wore on.
“I don’t feel like I have to go out there and do everything. I think that’s a credit to the guys we have on this team because they can go out there make plays. Everybody’s elevated their game,” Mitchell said.
Jordan Clarkson scored 24, including six 3-pointers, while Joe Ingles had 19 points and Rudy Gobert contributed 13 points and a career playoff-high 20 rebounds.
Reggie Jackson led the Clippers with 29 points and George had 27. Kawhi Leonard scored 21 points but managed just two in the fourth quarter.
The series shifts to Los Angeles on Saturday for Game 3.
Once the Clippers took their only lead at 101-99 after consecutive 3-pointers by Jackson, the Jazz forced nine consecutive misses to power a 14-2 run that was capped by Ingles’ 3-pointer to make it 113-103 with 3:07 to play.
“You can’t dig yourself a hole like that against a good team. Then you got to expend all your energy trying to get back in the game and you don’t have enough to finish,” Clippers coach Tyronne Lue said.
In the second half, the Clippers mixed multiple coverages and cut off the passing lanes that usually garner the Jazz clean 3-point looks and Jackson got hot.
“We took a punch, but we were able to collect ourselves and obviously got stops late,” Utah coach Quin Snyder.
Mitchell scored 27 first-half points — the most by a Utah player in the last 25 years — to spark the Jazz to an early lead and then a late second-quarter push to boost Utah to a 66-53 halftime lead.
“I’ve seen every coverage. It’s just a matter of me making the right reads,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell shot 11 of 16 in the first half and did the same in the second half of Game 1. He tallied 59 points on 22-of-32 shooting over those four quarters.
The demonstrative Mitchell has said he wants to conserve energy with the exceptional physical demands of the playoffs, but he couldn’t help showing emotion one some of his spectacular finishes.
“So for me it was, I’m going to make my imprint … that was my mindset, I’m going to be aggressive and pick my spots,” Mitchell said.
Mike Conley missed his second game after injuring his hamstring late in the Utah-Memphis series finale but the Jazz have now won six straight playoff games.
Jackson scored 16 points in the third quarter and the Jazz finally started missing shots against an active Clippers zone. Their 21-point lead shrunk to four when Marcus Morris drove the lane and flipped in a leaning shot to make it 82-78. The Clippers made their comeback without Leonard, who sat most of the period with four fouls.
“We’re just trying to make sure we can keep them on their heels and not allow them to get into set defenses,” Jackson said. “That’s what I love about life is the law of averages. We were bound to get hot.”
For most of the game, the Clippers looked for Gobert whenever they ventured into the lane and resorted to double-pumps and odd angles on the shots at the basket that weren’t blocked by the long-armed Frenchman.
Instead of going small, the Clippers countered Gobert with DeMarcus Cousins and Ivica Zubac, who was hampered with foul trouble in the first half.
Clippers: After posting the league’s all-time best free throw percentage in the regular season (83.9%), the Clippers made 20 of 23. … Jackson’s 16 third-quarter points were the most he’s scored in a single quarter in the postseason.
Jazz: Coach Quin Snyder and owner Ryan Smith presented Gobert his third Defensive Player of the Year Award before tipoff. … The Jazz made 20 3-pointers (on 39 attempts) to set a franchise playoff record.
UNLIKELY DEFENSIVE HERO
Gobert gets attention as the defensive anchor of the Jazz, but Bojan Bogdanovic was the talk of the Utah locker room after the game.
“Bojan’s defense was superb. He’s been taking that role and taking that challenge. We make jokes with him all the time and we look at Bojan and say, ‘Hey we pay you to shoot,’” Mitchell said.
Bogdanovic, who had 16 points, picked up Leonard full court and held him to two points on 1-of-4 shooting and two turnovers in the fourth quarter.
“What Bojan did tonight should not go unnoticed. What he did epitomizes what it is when you talk about a warrior,” Snyder said, noting his defense was stellar even after turning his ankle.