The Jazz couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start Tuesday night. In the first quarter of Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series against the Clippers, they fired 5 of 28 field goals in the first quarter, including a stretch of 20 field goal attempts in a row without scoring.
So how did the Jazz end with a 112-109 win when the final bell rang? Well, a 45-point outburst from Donovan Mitchell definitely helped. But as Jazz coach Quin Snyder pointed out during his postgame media availability, Utah’s defense kept the team alive when their offense was failing.
“I thought we settled in. I thought Donovan settled in. More than anything, I thought we went to the defensive end,” Snyder said. “We’ve talked about trying to keep pushing the ball and moving it. When we fight, that’s when the ball stops. They’re so good defensively, they stay in front of you. If the ball stops, it becomes a lot more difficult.
“We’ve had games where we haven’t shot well, and that’s the kind of game where you have to trust your defense.”
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In the final possession of Game 1, Utah had to lean on that defense to secure victory. After Mitchell failed to land a hard mid-range jump shot, Los Angeles guard Rajon Rondo caught the rebound and brought the ball to the ground with less than 20 seconds left and the Clippers facing a deficit of three. points.
Here’s the full game, which features an excellent block from two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert:
The thrilling finish was the product of a Jazz defense that struggled but remained strong, and a Clippers offense that missed its chances.
Rondo hands the ball to Kawhi Leonard to start possession. Mitchell trades with Royce O’Neale, so the Jazz are in good shape. Leonard then tosses the ball to Paul George, and O’Neale switches to George. However, this switch is not as clean as the first one. Joe Ingles runs and recovers with Leonard, who is clearly looking for a game-tying triple.
Ingles deserves a lot of credit for this work. He closes out not once, but twice against Leonard. He manages to pressure Leonard without fouling, forcing him to pass Marcus Morris in the corner.
When Gobert initially challenges Morris’s three-point attempt, he is out of control and walks away. Instead of seeking contact and committing a shooting foul, Morris dodges Gobert and repositiones himself.
Besides letting Gobert off the hook, Morris also doesn’t see Leonard cutting towards the wing. Leonard had more than enough time to latch on and shoot. This is as much from Morris for having tunnel vision and Leonard for not demanding that the ball come back faster.
Once Morris looks at the basket, it’s over. Gobert is simply too long, and crushes the Clippers’ last remaining hopes.
One important thing to note here: Los Angeles coach Tyronn Lue had a timeout, but decided not to use it.
“I didn’t want Gobert to be taken out of the game and have to change their guys, or have time to talk about it as a team, whether they wanted to foul or not.” Lue said. “I just thought that making a save, going out at halftime with Gobert on the court would generate an open 3. But he did a good job closing towards the corner. I have to see him, but that’s the best time to get an open 3, especially when a team does not know if it is going to commit a foul or what it is going to do in the transition. “
As the old saying goes, hindsight is 20-20. If Lue calls a timeout in that situation, Snyder may tell his players to foul, but the Clippers are likely to find a cleaner look than Morris did if the Jazz played straight. Then again, Utah may have closed the door to Los Angeles anyway.
When the time came, the Clippers relied on their offense and the Jazz relied on their defense. Utah took this round, but we may have a long fight.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.