Throughout this season I’ve felt myself trying to pick out identifiable qualities of last season’s Los Angeles Clippers team within this season’s iteration. It’s a show of just how much of a connection I felt to last season’s team, coupled with the battle to find that comfort and peace of mind that this team will be able to give us many more nights to remember during this campaign.
One quality that remains in terms of the team’s mentality is how they’ve continued to embrace a “next man up” mentality within the brotherhood they formed last year. We’ve seen that prevalent in some of the individuals who have surprised us this season, such as Isaiah Hartenstein and Brandon Boston Jr., but most importantly we’ve seen guys who showed flashes of their importance continuing to step up into even bigger roles, from Paul George and Reggie Jackson, right through to Luke Kennard and Terance Mann.
Yet, despite those individuals stepping up, there have still been times this season where the Clippers have been something of a cause for concern, to my mind at least, as we’ve seen dry shooting spells, high numbers of turnovers, and weaknesses underneath our own basket which have led to some low moments.
So who better to rediscover those qualities than the team against whom Clipper nation enjoyed one of the greatest moments of last season — nay, our history. Of course I’m talking about Game 6 of the 2021 Western Conference semifinals and the Utah Jazz, a game which will always hold its place in history not only as the first time this ball club reached the Western Conference finals, but also one of the greatest performances us fans have witnessed from this franchise — and all while without the services of the only guys on the roster with championship experience, Kawhi Leonard and Serge Ibaka.
Ty Lue’s team got the best of Quin Snyder and Co. by four games to two in the postseason, but it was the Jazz who actually came out on top in the three-game regular season series 2-1. While the Clippers can lean on the fact they were shorthanded for one of those games, they may feel as though the muscle memory for that contest could be useful for them this time around, as George and Nicolas Batum will likely be game-time decisions.
When: Wednesday, December 15 at 7 p.m. PT
Where: Vivint Arena, Salt Lake City, Utah
How to watch/listen: ESPN, Bally Sports SoCal, AM 570 ESPN radio
Opposing perspective: SLC Dunk
Projected Starting Lineups
Clippers: Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, Terance Mann, Marcus Morris Sr., Ivica Zubac
Jazz: Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Royce O’Neale, Bojan Bogdanovic, Rudy Gobert
Clippers: Nicolas Batum, Paul George — QUESTIONABLE; Serge Ibaka, Kawhi Leonard, Jason Preston — OUT
Jazz: Udoka Azubuike, Jared Butler — OUT
This time out the Jazz remain at a similar level, currently operating at a .731 win percentage compared to the .722 they finished the last campaign with. They are still a force on both ends of the floor too, with the best offensive rating in the league and the sixth-best defensive rating, just two places behind the Clippers defence.
Their main guys are shooting the skin off the basketball, though last year’s Sixth Man award winner Jordan Clarkson’s numbers have dipped. For the home team, their leading duo George and Jackson’s shooting numbers have dipped, but they have seen guys like Kennard, Batum, and Marcus Morris Sr picking up the slack and throwing up a few more attempts in the process. With the offence continuing to stutter, Lue’s team could find themselves in trouble in this game if it becomes a straight shootout.
Snyder will likely look to the battle of the boards as an area for the Jazz to dominate their opponents, as they’re a top eight team in offensive and defensive rebound percentage compared to the Clippers, who are a bottom 10 team in both. The plus point for Los Angeles is that the Clippers have the muscle memory of how to play against Rudy Gobert and put him into spots he’s less comfortable on the floor, and if they can do the same again, they’ll give themselves a much better chance of picking up the win in this one. Mann of all people should know just how sweet that kind of victory can taste.
Ultimately this could be a game that could feel as though it’s been decided once the pre-game injury reports are released, if the Clippers are indeed to be shorthanded once again. However, they know exactly what it’s like to face the Jazz with key guys missing, and they just knocked off a strong Phoenix Suns team despite facing similar personnel challenges. There could just be more magic to come from this game.