The shorthanded Clippers played the league-leading Jazz pretty well through three quarters in the teams’ first meeting of the week on Wednesday before losing, but a tight game Friday stayed close for the duration as both teams played at a very high level on the night.
The reinforcements were back, with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George back in the action, both stars starting for the Clippers alongside the No. 1 starting five this season with Patrick Beverley, Serge Ibaka and Nicolas Batum, who was also back. Mike Conley returned to the Jazz lineup after missing six games with an injury.
The opening quarter got out to a quick start, with both teams on the ball early and hitting good contested shots. George was excellent in the opening 12 minutes, scoring nine points including a buzzer beater in the corner, the Clippers leading 31-23.
The Clippers’ superiority continued in the 2nd quarter, Ty Lue rotating his players early to keep the returning players fresh for crunch time. Lou Williams continued his recent hot play with a great first half, notching 15 points to lead LA, while Leonard had 12 points, although he couldn’t find his 3-point form to open the game.
LA lead 57-49 at halftime, the game played at an extremely high level by both teams.
Utah rallied in the 3rd quarter, going on a scoring spree to tie the game at 61-61 with 6:30 to go in the frame. Donovan Mitchell scored a go-ahead bucket less than 30 seconds later for the Jazz.
But the Clippers held firm and retook the lead, Leonard and Williams hitting crucial shots to give LA a 79-75 edge at the end of the 3rd quarter.
The 4th quarter was tight, with the Clippers leading by a basket or two. Marcus Morris Sr. again came up clutch to close out the game, burying a few shots to hold the Jazz off down the stretch.
In the final five minutes, the Clippers pull ahead for good, the performance capped off with Beverley spotting up for a wide-open 3-pointer with a little over two minutes to go, to extend the lead beyond 10 points. But Utah wouldn’t throw in the towel, and kept hitting 3-pointers while fouling the Clippers to stop the game to make sure they kept hope alive in the dying seconds. A late foul on Mitchell by George meant Mitchell had three free throws with 2.2 seconds left. Mitchell scored the first two, and then missed the third, and LA got the win.
Leonard’s 29 points paced the Clippers, with five players total hitting double-digits in points. Ibaka had nine rebounds, with Ivica Zubac and Morris right behind him.
Not only was it a good win, it was good to see the full-strength Clippers go toe-to-toe against the Jazz. Given the chopping and changing to the lineup in recent games, out of necessity because of injuries, we know this team needs continuity, and the Kawhi and PG-led Clips picked right back up where they left off before they got injured.
The Clippers will have Saturday to rest and prepare for another tough game, Sunday evening against the Brooklyn Nets at Staples Center. LA lost a duel between the teams out east back on Feb. 2, and will be looking to even up the season series against the star-studded Nets.