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Clippers vs. Jazz score, takeaways: Donovan Mitchell, Utah takes game 2 in a row against Los Angeles

The Utah Jazz have successfully defended their home ground in the semifinals of the Western Conference as they took care of the Los Angeles Clippers in crunchy times to win Game 2 of their best-of-seven series. The Jazz led by as many as 21 points, but a furious second-half comeback from the Clippers fell just short as Utah walked away with the 117-111 victory.

It was not Kawhi Leonard or Paul George who led the way for the Clippers. No, it would be Reggie Jackson who poured a team height of 29 points to keep the Clippers afloat in this one. Unfortunately, they were no match for Donovan Mitchell, who followed up his 45-point Game 1

masterpiece with a 37-point gem in Game 2.

With the win, the Jazz now lead this series 2-0 as it moves to Los Angeles. However, the Clippers were in this position in the final round, so comebacks are hardly unknown to them. They’ll have to be even better to beat this amazing Jazz team, but if the Dallas series showed anything, it was that they were resilient enough for the job. Here are the three biggest takeaways from Game 2.

1. Mitchell’s mastery

As I referred to after Game 1, Donovan destroyed the Mitchell Clippers by switching chases for their worst defenders in pick-and-roll. This is a basic superstar strategy and the easiest way to leverage a switch. The Clippers tried to adjust defensively in Game 2. It just didn’t work because Mitchell ruined pretty much every cover they threw at him.

The Clippers had largely played small since the Dallas series in an attempt to both maximize their distance and increase variability on defense, but after their game 1 game, they went back to a big lineup with Ivica Zubac at the center. Doing so forced them to play drop coverage from pick-and-rolls because Zubac is not fast enough to defend the perimeter. Mitchell noticed this immediately and hit Zubac for two quick pull-up 3 pointers coming out of the screens.

When the Clippers tried to flash him in the second half, he went out of it for light shovels.

There is no good answer for Mitchell anymore. This is the last level that offensive players need to reach to claim superstardom, and that’s the point Luka Doncic also reached in the final round. There’s just no coverage left that works against Mitchell. He has mastered how to beat them all. All the Clippers can do at this point is pick a path and hope that either Mitchell misses or they can force him to pass, and his teammates do. It will not cut it against an offense that is so good.

2. Did the Clippers waste their best moves?

We see this at some point in almost every post season. Any team that is after 20 or so gets desperate and breaks a zone defense. It works for a quarter or two and they reduce the deficit down to single digits but eventually lose the game. Then, when they start the next game with the zone as their base, the opposing team destroys it because they got a chance to watch it on film and dissect its weaknesses.

It’s a story as old as time, and the Clippers are heading down this road now after their Game 2 loss. They followed with a full 21 points in the third quarter, but the zone helped them fight their way back into the game. But it was not enough. They are now down 0-2 and do not have the card left to play anymore. As effective as zone defense can be, their best move is how rarely are they used. Teams are surprised to see zones. Once the element of surprise is gone, the defense becomes completely beatable. This is especially true for teams like Jazz, which has plenty of shooting.

Taking into account all the pick-and-roll covers the Clippers tried, it’s worth wondering what adjustments Ty Lue even has left to try. He has now experimented with pretty much every lineup type and cover style that his list can produce. Nothing works. Maybe better performance can make the difference here, but right now the Clippers are on life support without any obvious medication.

3. Do not do yourself any favors

Rudy Gobert played 36 minutes in this game. Jazz won those minutes by 14 points. When Derrick Favors replaced him, however, the previously impenetrable Jazz defense looked completely deadly. Reggie Jackson and Paul George were far more aggressive in attacking the basket, and the Clippers won those minutes by eight points.

Favors is not a bad defender, though he has been rejected since his first Jazz period. His real crime is simply not being Rudy Gobert. Gobert’s presence scares the Clippers out of driving, making it far easier for Utah’s perimeter defenders to hold on to their shooting game. When Gobert leaves the floor, everything opens up. The Clippers look like, well, the Clippers again.

Big men tend to struggle especially with playoff workloads. Utah can’t just ask Gobert to play 45 minutes. They’ll have to survive those bench minutes somehow, and Favor is not working right now. Could the Jazz get rid of playing Bojan Bogdanovic in the center and hold on? Maybe for short distances. All-offensive approach is viable for a team with as much shooting as the Jazz, but it’s not something they want to try for more than a few minutes at a time. Either way, if the Clippers start shooting as best they can, Utah will have to figure out somehow to defend the basket when Gobert is out of the game. Typically, a series against a team, this talented, does not have a margin of error large enough to survive a minus-8 stretch from a key backup.

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