SALT LAKE CITY – – Donovan Mitchell’s score propelled the Utah Jazz into the lead and their defense closed the door.
Mitchell scored 37 points and the Jazz forced nine straight misses to outlast Los Angeles Clippers 117-111 on Thursday night and take a 2-0 lead in their Western Conference semi-final series.
Mitchell won the game with a drive-by shot with 43 seconds left, but then appeared to have a minor leg injury from a Paul George foul with 10 seconds left. He made one of two free throws after limping to the line.
“I’m fine now. I walked in here and if you want me to sprint for you I can. I’m fine,” Mitchell said.
The goalie is the first Jazz player with at least 35 points in consecutive playoff games since Karl Malone in 1988, but the points became more difficult as the game progressed.
“I don’t feel like I have to go out there and do everything. I think that’s a huge credit to the guys we have on this team because they can play there. Everyone has improved their game, ”said Mitchell.
Jordan Clarkson scored 24 points, including six at 3 points, while Joe Ingles had 19 points and Rudy Gobert contributed 13 points and a career-high 20 rebounds.
Reggie Jackson led the Clippers with 29 points and George had 27. Kawhi Leonard scored 21 points but only had two in the fourth quarter.
The series travels to Los Angeles on Saturday for Game 3.
Once the Clippers took their only lead at 101-99 after 3 straight points from Jackson, the Jazz forced nine straight misfires to propel a 14-2 run that was capped by Ingles’ 3 point to reach 113 -103 with 3:07 to play.
“You can’t dig yourself a hole like that against a good team. Then you have to spend all your energy trying to get back into the game and you don’t have enough to finish, ”said Clippers coach Tyronne Lue.
In the second half, the Clippers shuffled multiple covers and cut passing lanes that typically garner Jazz’s own 3-point looks and Jackson got hot.
“We took a punch but we were able to recover and obviously we had some late saves,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said.
Mitchell scored 27 points in the first half – the most by a Utah player in 25 years – to give the Jazz an early lead, then a late second-quarter push to propel Utah at a lead of 66-53 at halftime.
“I saw all the covers. It’s just a matter of me doing the right reads, ”Mitchell said.
Mitchell shot 11 of 16 in the first half and did the same in the second half of the first game. He had 59 points on 22 of 32 shots during those four quarters.
Demonstrative Mitchell said he wanted to save energy with the exceptional physical demands of the playoffs, but he couldn’t help but show emotion during some of his spectacular finishes.
“So for me it was, I’m going to leave my mark… it was my mindset, I’m going to be aggressive and pick my places,” Mitchell said.
Mike Conley missed his second game after injuring his hamstring at the end of the Utah-Memphis series final, but the Jazz have now won six straight playoff games.
Jackson scored 16 points in the third quarter and the Jazz eventually started to miss shots against an active Clippers area. Their 21-point lead fell to four when Marcus Morris led the way and fired a tilt shot to make it 82-78. The Clippers made their comeback without Leonard, who spent 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 defined defenses,” Jackson said. “That’s what I love in life, it’s the law of averages. We must have been warm.
For most of the game, the Clippers searched for Gobert whenever they ventured into the lane and resorted to double push-ups and odd angles on the field goal shots that weren’t blocked by the French with long arms.
Instead of going small, the Clippers countered Gobert with DeMarcus Cousins and Ivica Zubac, who was hampered by foul issues in the first half.
Clippers: After posting the league’s all-time best free-throw percentage in the regular season (83.9%), the Clippers had 20 of 23. … Jackson’s 16 points in the third quarter were the most scored in a single quarterback in the playoffs.
Jazz: Coach Quin Snyder and owner Ryan Smith presented Gobert with his third Defensive Player of the Year award before kick-off. … The Jazz made 20 3-pointers (out of 39 attempts) to set a franchise record in the playoffs.
UNLIKELY DEFENSIVE HERO
Gobert is gaining attention as the Jazz’s defensive anchor, but Bojan Bogdanovic was talked about in the Utah locker room after the game.
“Bojan’s defense was superb. He took on this role and took on this challenge. We make jokes with him all the time and we look at Bojan and say, “Hey, we’re paying you to shoot,” Mitchell said.
Bogdanovic, who had 16 points, recovered Leonard all over the field and held him to two points on a 1 of 4 shot and two turnovers in the fourth quarter.
“What Bojan has done tonight should not go unnoticed. What he did embodies what it is when you speak of a warrior, ”Snyder said, noting that his defense was stellar even after turning his ankle.