The Clippers and Jazz are finally meeting in the second round of the playoffs, one year after the two teams appeared to be on a collision course in the NBA bubble. Now, Utah is coming off a regular season when the Jazz had the best record and point differential in the league, and that means this series will start in Salt Lake City.
To get a better feel for how the Utah took this leap, we brought in James Hansen of SLC Dunk, the SB Nation Jazz site, to answer a few questions. Many thanks to James for taking the time, and make sure to check out SLC Dunk for Jazz coverage during the second round.
Clips Nation: What was your primary takeaway from the team’s regular season meetings?
SLC Dunk: For the Jazz, I think Donovan Mitchell really has to trust his teammates. Mitchell gives everything he has on the floor to win the game, and sometimes he’ll try to do everything himself. He can’t do that against the Clippers. Patrick Beverley did a pretty good job on Mitchell in their last couple matchups, and Mitchell can’t take it personal and try to beat Beverley every possession. He has to facilitate for other guys on the team. The good news is he’s been doing that in the playoffs, and we should see him do that in this series. His last two games he has 18 assists, which is big for Mitchell.
For the Clippers, I think that Kawhi is a special, special talent and has a gear he can get to that only a select few in the game have. Royce O’Neale has quietly done a good job on him in the regular season, so we’ll see if he can have a strong impact this series, but that’s a tall ask against playoff Kawhi.
CN: Donovan Mitchell has historically been good against the Clippers. Why do you think that’s the case?
SLCD: The Clippers and Jazz are interesting because their strengths are spread differently. It’s safe to say that the Clippers best tandem of wings in the league in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. They also have the best player in the series in Kawhi. Utah has one of the top centers in the league in Rudy Gobert and then a tandem of all-star guards in Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley. So the strengths are in different areas. Because the talent is spread, Mitchell has been able to attack the Clippers guards. Beverley has done pretty well on Mitchell, but Mitchell is going to be able to get by Beverley like he does almost every other guard in the league. The X-Factor in this series for the Clippers, from a Jazz point of view, is Ibaka. Do the Clippers get a healthy Ibaka back that can help protect the rim? If not, Mitchell will likely do well again because he can get to the rim against most teams. If Ibaka is there, Mitchell may struggle.
CN: How do the Jazz plan to guard Kawhi Leonard and Paul George?
SLCD: Royce O’Neale will definitely be tasked with guarding Kawhi. Bojan Bogdanovic will likely have to take the assignment on George. The Jazz also have Rudy Gobert who allows their perimeter defenders to run everyone off the 3-point line more than they normally would and force them towards the hoop and Gobert’s rim protection. That’s the scheme that has given the Jazz the third-best defense in the league. Kawhi has answers for that, though. Namely, he’s able to pull up and hit a mid range shot. That shot is a shot that can counter what the Jazz do. A LOT is going to be on O’Neale’s shoulders in this series. If O’Neale plays well? It bodes well for Utah.
CN: Why is Utah better equipped for switching defenses this year than in previous postseasons?
SLCD: This is one of those places where Rudy Gobert’s impact on offense is underrated. If teams aren’t switching, Gobert’s screening helps create openings for Mitchell and Conley to get their 3-point shot if the defender goes under, or Gobert rolls hard to the rim, creating space for the drive or the alley-oop. If teams are switching, Gobert has become very good at slipping before the screen happens and rolling to the rim and receiving the pass that he either will lay in at the basket or pass out to one of Utah’s 3-point shooters. That’s one way Utah will attack it. The other way that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t is creating isolations and attacking them. Will the Clippers be able to defend Mitchell in isolation? My guess is maybe because they have such good wing defenders. That’s where Mitchell’s playmaking comes into play. The Jazz need Mitchell to rack up assists in this one if they want to win the series.
CN: What’s your prediction?
SLCD: I’m a homer, so I’ll go with the Jazz in 6, but that’s completely dependent on whether Mike Conley’s healthy.