Much of the Clippers ‘Game 3 victory over the Jazz was about Los Angeles’ small-ball formation creating trouble for Utah. The star performances of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George – along with key contributions from role players such as Nic Batum, Reggie Jackson and Terance Mann – led to an offensive explosion, as the Clippers shot 56.2% from the field and 52 , 8% out of 3 points on their way to a 132-106 victory.
Los Angeles dominated once again in Game 4 on Monday night, beating Utah 118-104 to tie the series, but offense wasn’t history. This time, the Clippers have increased the defensive intensity.
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Bojan Bogdanovic scored the first bucket of the contest to give the Jazz a two-point lead with 11:40 on the clock. Utah scored just 11 points the rest of the opening period, as the Clippers players hovered over the pitch and disrupted the Jazz’s offensive flow. That blitz appeared to leave Utah stunned, propelling the Clippers to a 68-44 halftime lead that the Jazz couldn’t overcome, even with a solid finish.
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“I thought it was our defense, really setting the tone defensively, allowing just 13 points in the first quarter,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue told reporters after Game 4. “We were able to come out in transition . I thought our physique was our strength., Our attention to detail was pretty good tonight. Of course we made mistakes, and that will happen when you play basketball, but overall I thought we were really locked in. We really took advantage of what we did defensively to come out in transition. “
Possession in the second quarter was a perfect illustration of the team’s level of focus. Keep in mind that the Clippers held a 27-point lead at the time:
Let’s break this thing down. First, Leonard and Jackson change the brush screen. Leonard follows Jordan Clarkson and Jackson takes on Donovan Mitchell, who then runs a pick-and-roll with Derrick Favors. Jackson and Marcus Morris stick to the ball first, but George and Batum duck to avoid an easy layup without straying too far from their men.
Mitchell throws the ball to Clarkson, who enters the painting and collides with Jackson. Clarkson has a small opening to hit Favors, but Jackson’s ball pressure and Leonard’s quick recognition to slide to the baseline close the passing lane.
Clarkson passes to Royce O’Neale, and he returns the ball to Mitchell well over the 3-point line. Knowing that the Jazz have limited shot clock time and tight spacing, George and Jackson seem to communicate that this is a good opportunity to pass Mitchell. George hopes to catch Mitchell off guard as he turns his back on him, but once Jackson fully commits to attacking Mitchell, George retreats to Clarkson.
Mitchell finds an outlet for O’Neale, but Batum reads it to the end. He finished hard with less than two seconds on the shot clock, and O’Neale was forced to shoot a contested jumper before the buzzer sounded.
“Just everyone helping each other, making sure we get into the windups, don’t give up [up] straight-line practices, show jumping shots and obviously getting the rebound, ”Leonard said of LA’s defensive effort in his post-game interview with TNT’s Rebecca Haarlow.
Does that mean the Clippers have found the formula to stifle the Jazz? Not necessarily. Utah coach Quin Snyder will be looking to make adjustments. It’s possible that Mike Conley, inactive for the entire series so far with a hamstring injury, will join the starting lineup at some point. Mitchell is still capable of a wild explosion.
This means Los Angeles can be a hell of a good defensive unit when they get stuck. If the Clippers are to advance to the Western Conference Finals (and beyond), these are the types of possessions they’ll need to chain together consistently. .