Jazz Outlast Clippers after 76-Point First Half

January 20th, 2018 | by Clint Johnson

Donovan Mitchell’s (45) team-high 23 led Utah over the LA Clippers for their second win in three games. (The Canadian Press)

Story of the Game

The Utah Jazz won their first contest against a Western playoff rival for the first time since their December 1st win in New Orleans. All it took was arguably their best half of basketball all season – and a few nervous moments late.

In the first half, Utah steamrolled the LA Clippers with unstoppable offense. They shot the lights out, hitting 63 percent of their shots, 46 percent from behind the arc, and 10 of 11 free throws (91 percent). It was Quin Snyder’s offense running at its peak, with six players scoring seven or more points: Derrick Favors’s 14, Joe Ingles’s 13, Alec Burks’s 13, Donovan Mitchell’s eight, Rudy Gobert’s seven, and Ricky Rubio’s seven.

All 10 Utah players scored at least three points. It was beautiful to watch and, for the first time in a LONG time, Utah looked like a good team while playing against good competition. But a big part of that was the Clippers’s defense, which in the first half was disinterested and lazy on top of missing DeAndre Jordan inside due to injury. Utah got any shot it wanted, especially inside.

The third quarter saw the Jazz lead rise as high as 25, but in a season like this it’s not surprising even that margin couldn’t save the team from a little heartburn late. LA’s defense – likely fueled by shame after their first half performance – began to play really hard, particularly guards pressuring Utah’s ball handlers.

Starting at 6:48 left in the third, Utah’s offense fell off a cliff against the pressure. The Clippers ripped off an 11 to one run in the third and then added a nine to one start to the fourth. Meanwhile, the Jazz shot 35 percent from the floor, 18 percent from three, and 65 percent from the line. They also turned the ball over an insane 11 times in under 19 minutes of play.

The lead fell to seven with 1:38 left in the game, easily close enough to cause anxious moments for a Jazz squad that has had a difficult season on a number of levels, but the deficit was simply too much for LA to overcome. A few momentum stoppers – Royce O’Neale stealing back a ball he’d coughed up to Lou Williams and darting for an uncontested dunk, a pair of made Gobert free throws, a cashed in corner three by Jonus Jerebko – kept the Clippers from ever really threatening to climb completely out of the whole they’d dug themselves.

While it wasn’t as easy a victory as it might have been after such a dominant first half, the Jazz leave tonight having won two of three games for the first time in their last 22 contests.

Stars of the Game

Superstar: Donovan Mitchell (23 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals)

Mitchell’s game continues to develop. The 23 points on 16 shots alone would have been enough to keep him pacing the field in the Rookie of the Year race. But his back-to-back games with seven assists shows him growing into a true offensive orchestrator, while another two steals moves him up to 65 on the season, behind only Ricky Rubio on the Jazz. Topping it all off, he continues to be one of the best closers in the entire NBA, tonight scoring eight fourth-quarter points to help Utah hold on for the win.

Secondary Stars: Joe Ingles (21 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 steals), Derrick Favors (14 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal)

Ingles hit five threes on his way to a season-high 21 and fueled the Jazz’s super-charged first half with his steals leading to open court opportunities. Meanwhile, all of Favors 14 points came in that dominant first half, though he did gobble up seven of his 12 boards in the second half and ended the night leading the team at plus-18. When these two were heavily involved in the offense, Utah was blowing the doors of the Clippers. The pair scored 27 on 17 first-half shots. Once LA started upped the defensive pressure, especially on Utah’s ball handlers, in the second half, the duo managed only eight points on eight combined shots.

Secret Star: Raul Neto (3 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists)

Neto’s only made shot of the evening was his lone three attempt, raising his season shooting from deep to an impressive 46 percent. He actually leads the team in that category. The 20-game sample size isn’t the largest, but consider that the Jazz have outscored their opponents by 101 in those 20 games with Neto on the court. There’s no question he deserves more minutes.

Stats of the Game

146.6 – Utah’s ridiculous offensive rating in the first half.

90.3 – Utah’s atrocious offensive rating in the second half.

14 – Jazz assists in the first half.

7 – Jazz assists in the second half.

22 – The rebound advantage enjoyed by the Jazz in this game.

27 – Combined second change points and fast break points for the Jazz in the first half. The team only manages 19 per game this season.

Sundries

  • With Rodney Hood out of the lineup, Alec Burks had a strong game with 15 points on seven shots along with six rebounds. He got to the line eight times, making seven.
  • Gobert followed up last night’s dominant performance with a very solid 16 point, seven rebound, three block outing. He played 58 minutes in a back-to-back set, averaging 19.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, and three blocks. So much for having to ease back into the flow of things.
  • Utah really should have shot 33 of 48 (69 percent) in the first half. Gobert missed a pair of gimmies at the rim and Mitchell blew a wide open layup after a beautiful Euro-step passed Blake Griffin. They had to settle for 30 of 48 (63 percent).
  • Lou Williams was stupid good. His 31 points has been the norm recently, but his 10 steals – 10!!! – certainly hasn’t. He’s the first NBA player to combine 30 points and 10 steals since Michael Jordan in 1988. He had 19 and seven in the second half alone.
  • Five teams are fighting for the final three seeds in the Western playoffs. After tonight’s games, here is how that race stands:
    • 6th – Pelicans: 24 – 21
    • 7th – Trail Blazers: 24 – 21
    • 8th – Clippers: 23 – 22 (1 game back)
    • 9th – Nuggets: 23 – 23 (1.5 games back)
    • 10th – Jazz: 19 – 27 (5.5 games back)

Entering the night, Utah was given a 12.9 percent playoff chance by ESPN and a 15 percent shot by FiveThirtyEight. While tonight’s win helps, Utah is still a definite long shot. That they have to pass two teams rather than one means even if a team above them dives down the standing, it won’t be enough to get them to the post-season. If the Jazz want a spot in the playoffs, they’re going to have play good basketball and do it often. The first half of tonight’s game showed they can do it against mediocre to poor defense. Can they manage against better, more intense competition? Can they raise their defense to take some slack off the offense? If they want any shot at the post-season, they’d better.

On Monday the Jazz will try to build momentum with a third win in four games on the road against the least-of-the-East Atlanta Hawks.

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson is a professional author, writing educator, and editor. He teaches writing at Salt Lake Community College. A frequent presenter at both writing and educational conferences, he writes about the Jazz as a break from his other writing work.

4 Comments

  1. Clark says:

    Williams had 10 steals, not 10 assists. I was most of the way through a comment calling you crazy because 30 points and 10 assists happens pretty regularly, until I checked the box score more carefully. ;)

  2. John Jenkins says:

    Please someone just show Joe Ingles his stat line and make him shoot 11-15 shots a night. Wish trade dead line was closer so we know where the Jazz and who are heading. Missed seeing Ekpe and his work on the floor. He has been a real Get by Lindsey..

    • Clint Johnson says:

      The problem is his shots are really contingent on the defense. When he’s open, he’s an awesome shooter. But he can’t elevate to shoot over defenders or shoot quickly to take advantage of small windows. So his field goal attempts are naturally going to be highly variable depending on how he’s defended.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *