This year, the Utah Jazz (24-6) have been the hottest team in the NBA. Coming into Friday night’s matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers (22-9) with the best record in the league and riding a 9 game winning streak.
In a back-and-forth matchup, it was the Clippers who pulled off the 116-112 victory by holding off a late Jazz comeback. The Clippers led the game by as many as 13 in the fourth quarter, but Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell tried willing his team back. He dropped 10 points in the final minute and a half, including a made three that pulled the Jazz within 2 with 13 seconds left. However, the Clippers were able to ice the game at the free-throw line, as Patrick Beverley and Kawhi Leonard nailed four-in-a-row to put the game away.
Those free-throws accounted for 2 of Leonard’s team-high 29 points as he was the leader of the Clippers offense. Leonard’s third-quarter helped provide a cushion to the lead, as he dropped in 12 points. Patrick Beverley also shined offensively, adding 17 points on 5-7 shooting and 3-5 from the three-point range.
The win moves the Clippers to within a half a game of the Lakers in 3rd place in the Western Conference. The Jazz will stay on top of the West with the best record in the league but now sit just 2 games ahead of the Lakers.
Mitchell shakes off a rough start to lead in scoring
Donovan Mitchell has been the driving force of the Jazz’s success this season. Coming into Friday, Mitchell was averaging career-highs in scoring (24.2 PPG), assists (5.1 APG), and three- point percentage (39.1%). The Jazz offense flourishes when Mitchell has the ball in his hands because his athleticism allows him to create offense better than anyone else.
So that meant trouble for the Jazz when Mitchell picked up two fouls early in the first quarter, which led him to sit down for a big chunk of time early. And it cost the Jazz, as the Paul George led the Clippers on a run with Mitchell on the bench. George scored 9 points in the first quarter as the Clippers opened up an 8-point lead.
The foul-trouble left Mitchell scoreless after the first, but he came back to the court firing. He led the game, scoring 35 points over the next three quarters as the Jazz continued to battle back. He scored 17 of those points in the fourth as he desperately tried to bring his team back. They would fall short, but Mitchell was brilliant in the losing effort.
Clippers back at full strength
For the past 7 games, the Clippers lineup has been far from full strength. Paul George had missed all of those games with a bone edema, and Kawhi Leonard had missed 3 straight with a leg contusion. But both were back in action on Friday, which was a much-needed boost to help them prevail over the top team in the league.
George was limited in his minutes but was able to be effective, especially in the first quarter. He dropped in 9 of his 15 points in the first quarter, as coach Ty Lue held him to 26 minutes on the floor. George said after the game he was not ready to play any more than what he did.
“Got to get back to that basketball conditioning. I probably would have hurt the team if I’d been on the floor past the minutes I was,” said George.