Los Angeles • The Clippers knew what they needed to do in order to beat the Jazz at the Staples Center on Wednesday night.
They needed, first and foremost, to stop Donovan Mitchell, the man who has led the Jazz on this recent hot streak, garnering Western Conference Player of the Week honors as a result. On the other end, they needed to find a way around the mountain in the middle, Rudy Gobert.
They did neither, giving the Jazz their fifth straight victory by a score of 129-109 and pushing Utah further up the Western Conference standings, back into playoff position.
Despite tight defense from Avery Bradley and Patrick Beverley, who both have two All-Defense team selections, Mitchell found himself getting free. He did it through a variety of moves: splitting the pick-and-roll trap, using his athleticism to simply jump above the Clippers for a tap-in two, and on one play, even sending Bradley to the ground with a brutal crossover. Mitchell finished with 28 points, his seventh consecutive game of 26 points of more.
Other times, though, Mitchell played it cool, knowing that if he were blanketed on one part of the court, his teammates might be more exposed. The Jazz took advantage of that in the form of Kyle Korver and Jae Crowder, who finished the game with a combined 42 points on 13-of-23 shooting overall. For Crowder, it was finally the end of a shooting slump that had stricken him for the six games prior.
The Jazz started the game by getting out to an early lead, one that grew to 13 points by the early second quarter. But a quick 12-0 run by the Clippers against the Jazz’s inexperienced bench — Grayson Allen was the lead playmaker in the lineup — quickly made the contest close again.
But whenever the Jazz’s starters had a chance to play against their Clippers’ counterparts, they simply were a class above. Mitchell finished with a plus-minus of plus-23, Gobert’s was plus-19. That dynamic was on display in an excellent end to the second quarter and a beginning to the third, when the Jazz pushed their lead to 18.
The fourth quarter was largely smooth sailing, as shooting from Korver, offensive rebounds from Derrick Favors, and repeated trips to the free-throw line allowed the Jazz to maintain their double-digit lead.
And again, Utah’s defense was excellent, a hallmark of their recent streak. Gobert was once again sensational, finishing with 23 points, 22 rebounds, and four blocks, changing the game in superstar fashion on both ends of the floor. Thanks to that rebound total, he became the first Jazzman to get 20 or more rebounds in consecutive games since 1988.
“If you gave him a point every time he created a defensive stop, he would average 40 a night,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “But no one does that, and so he doesn’t get credit. Rudy could have a game where he scores five points, gets 15 rebounds and people will be like ‘well, what did he do?’ Well, he created 40 points by getting stops and going the other way.”
Left unanswered by Rivers was the question of how many points Gobert was responsible for if he actually did score 23.
While the Clippers didn’t achieve their goals, the Jazz helped their cause by avoiding unnecessary free throws for Lou Williams and Danilo Gallinari. They average 12.7 free-throw attempts per game, but Utah sent them there a total of only four times. In the end, Williams led the Clippers with 23 points.
The win brings the Jazz to a 25-21 record, good for eighth place in the Western Conference between the 24-20 Clippers and the 24-21 Lakers.