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Clippers lose steam after halftime in 112-109 loss

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For the second straight series, the Clippers trail 1-0.

2021 NBA Playoffs - LA Clippers v Utah Jazz Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

It was a tale of two halves in Utah, as the Clippers got off to a strong start but altitude and tired legs got the best of them as the game wore on. L.A. was outscored 65-49 in the second half, ultimately falling 112-109.

Despite falling behind by as many as ten in the fourth quarter, the Clippers had a chance to tie the game on the final possession and send it into overtime, but Marcus Morris Sr.’s final shot was blocked by Rudy Gobert as Utah escaped with the win.

Kawhi Leonard and Paul George combined for 43 points while Donovan Mitchell had 45. That was the difference, as the Clippers were once again bested by a singular performance by an opposing perimeter player.

Mitchell got off to a slow start, though. The Jazz took 20 threes in the first quarter, showing no willingness or perhaps ability to get to the cup. Most of those shots were off the dribble instead of catch and shoots, and the Clippers kept Utah off the boards, resulting in one-shot possessions. Stylistically, that was a defensive win, and then the Jazz went and missed 19 shots in a row.

That allowed the Clippers to build a seven-point lead at the end of the first quarter despite not really playing well on the offensive end. Neither Leonard nor George was able to get going, but the bench came through in a big way as Ty Lue looked deep on his bench for answers with his stars gassed after the seven-game series against Dallas.

First, it was Ivica Zubac with his roll gravity and presence on the glass. Then it was Luke Kennard finding his jumper early when seemingly no one else could, popping off for nine first-quarter points on three 3-pointers.

Then came the biggest surprise as Lue trotted out DeMarcus Cousins to match up against Rudy Gobert. Cousins, who didn’t play in the first series, was amped and ready to go. He bodied up Gobert, pushed him away from the basket, scored six points to boot, and provided a real lift with his energy.

Those bench contributions helped the Clippers go into halftime up 13 despite Utah finding some rhythm on offense. The Jazz still weren’t able to hit threes, so they only took seven and instead tried to get to the basket, which was ultimately a win for L.A.

The wheels started to fall off in the third quarter as the Clippers simply lost their juice. The bench players who weren’t heavily used against Dallas kept the Clippers afloat in the first half, but that wasn’t enough once Utah got going.

Donovan Mitchell started off the second half with a flurry, leading the Jazz to a 10-2 run. Royce O’Neale found openings for offensive rebounds to give Utah second chances, and Mitchell was hitting some outrageous shots, spotting up from what has to be called Damian Lillard-range on occasion.

The Jazz took their first lead of the second half after a missed Leonard jumper as Mitchell hit O’Neale in transition, and the two teams traded the advantage for the rest of the third quarter. In the fourth, Utah went on a parade to the foul line, and combined with L.A.’s fatigue, started to take control. The Clippers still made a game of it, but they just didn’t have enough 48 hours after ending a tough first-round series.