by Daniel Olsen
The Utah Jazz felt a sense of urgency to win in front of their home crowd. For just the second time in these NBA playoffs, they were defeated at Vivint Arena. The Los Angeles Clippers seized control of the game in the second half, winning 119-111 and needing just one more win to advance to the Western Conference Finals. It’s time to look at three reasons why the Clippers were better than the Jazz on Wednesday night.
They were Mentally Tough
Paul George had been anything but mentally tough since he joined the Clippers. That was until now. It even dates back to his Thunder days in 2018 when he became the self-proclaimed “Playoff P”. Joe Ingles really got in his head and the Jazz defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder in six games.
Clippers coach Ty Lue is a mastermind at motivating. While he isn’t the best at basketball IQ, he did play a huge factor in ending the 52-year title drought in Cleveland. He made a sixteen-piece puzzle of the state of Ohio that his team gradually put together with each win until they were champions.
He also knows how to motivate stars. He got after LeBron James for not doing enough when he was leading the Finals in every statistical category. Bewildered, James eventually realized he had to listen to his coach and give every ounce of energy to win the championship.
With Kawhi Leonard sidelined, Paul George knew he had to stop playing like a shadow of himself. With 37 points on the night, he finally started playing like Playoff P. He also seems to be motivated by the fact that he doesn’t want to come back to Utah for Game 7. If he does, fans, Joe Ingles and the Clippers curse will be looking at him in the eyes.
This lesser of the Los Angeles franchises has never escaped the second round. They came close last year, but George needs a motivator like Lue to get them over the hump. It’s apparent now with former coach Doc Rivers down 3-2 in Philadelphia that he wasn’t the right fit to coach this particular team. Lue is the right fit so far.
The Jazz went cold from three
The Jazz went 0-10 from three in the third quarter and made just 3-14 in the fourth. The best three-point shooting team in the NBA did not seem themselves at all in the second half. There was a lack of ball movement thanks to the Clippers switching on every pass.
While Bojan Bogdanovic got hot from three early, the Clippers eventually figured out how to take him out of the game. The Jazz seemed to steer away from forcing it to him and instead had guys like Royce O’Neale take threes. That just wasn’t working. Donovan Mitchell seemed a step slow due to all the beating and injury history he’s endured dating back to the end of the regular season.
The Jazz miss Mike Conley
This becomes apparent with every passing game that Conley is listed as out. The Jazz escaped the first two games and seemed to have the upper hand. However, the Clippers adjusted well. The Jazz don’t seem to have an answer unless they get Conley back. He needs to be the facilitator and take some of the load off Mitchell. They can’t just all load up on Mitchell with Conley making the right reads. If that happens, the Jazz will put the Clippers in the blender and win Game 6.
Prediction: There will be a Game 7
While the team that wins Game 5 with the series tied 2-2 wins a playoff series 82 percent of the time, it is possible for the Jazz to at least force Game 7. They can do so if they play with desperation, hit their shots and get Conley back.
They need to find a deeper motivation. That team that was playing all season along for something greater than themselves, the scholarship program, needs to show up. Even if they don’t feel motivated to keep winning for the fans, team or themselves, there is still one more underprivileged kid hoping to have a chance at a higher education. If the Jazz lose, that otherwise might not be possible.
The Jazz will look for an answer when they travel to Los Angeles to play in the Staples Center. The game will start at 8 PM Mountain Time and be broadcast on ESPN.
Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images