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‘This is a bump in the road, and a good one’: Utah Jazz’s win streak ended by the Clippers

Though Utah’s nine consecutive victories are halted in a 116-112 defeat, they come away feeling good about their rally, and about their place in the basketball landscape.

Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, left, jumps up for a shot while Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles, Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)

The streak is over.

And the Earth did not even immediately spin off its axis and veer into the sun.

Actually, in the aftermath of the Utah Jazz’s 116-112 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night — a defeat that snapped a stretch of nine consecutive victories — the team was pleasantly unperturbed about it.

It’s not that they were happy to lose. It’s not that they weren’t trying to win. It’s just that, after falling behind multiple times by double-digits against a full-strength Clippers lineup, only to adjust, counter, bounce back, make a game of it, and nearly pull off an improbable rally in the waning moments, they rightly recognized this wasn’t one of those locker-room-bust-up kind of nights.

“I like how we competed. These are the games that we talked about … obviously, it’d be nice to win it, but we’re trying to get better, and that’s where our mindset is,” coach Quin Snyder pointed out afterward. “As disappointed as you are that you don’t win the game, this is another situation that we want to take and use to get better.”

Everyone from the team who addressed the media in the postgame Zoom offered some variation of that theme: The Clippers are a fantastic team (especially at full strength, as opposed to the short-handed outfit Utah knocked off on Wednesday), the Jazz are disappointed they lost, but what they learn from the defeat will ultimately make them better.

Of course, they would have happily settled for the lessons derived from a hard-fought comeback victory …

But the Clippers had something to say about that.

Still, when Pat Beverley drilled a 3-pointer to put L.A. up 107-94 with 2:28 to play, it appeared it would be the usually-dominant Jazz who’d be on the receiving end of a double-digit defeat.

So, yeah — the 16-5 run Utah made over the next 2 minutes to draw within 112-110 with 13 seconds to play made them proud they didn’t simply roll over and accept inevitability.

“You know, it is encouraging,” noted Mike Conley, who returned to the lineup following a six-game absence to notch 16 points in 25 carefully-managed minutes. “We knew that this team is one of the top teams in the league, especially when everybody’s in the lineup. And their ability to cause problems, both offensively and defensively, through our games [is] what we’re going to have to compete against and have to beat in order to get to our ultimate goal.

“For us to play a game like we played tonight, and be able to finish the way we did and execute down the stretch against a good team like this,” he added, “I think it’s a great lesson.”

There were, indeed, many lessons sprinkled throughout.

The Jazz will need to find counters to L.A.’s high-intensity perimeter defense, which threw Donovan Mitchell off his game early before he found his rhythm in the second half and finished with 35 points, five assists, and four rebounds. They’ll need to create new ways to generate a more prolific 3-point attack, after another sluggish night beyond the arc against the Clippers saw the finish 12 for 34 on 3-point tries. They’ll need to do a better job on the glass, because in spite of Rudy Gobert’s 15 boards, they were outrebounded 45-38 overall, and surrendered 11 offensive rebounds that led to 16 second-chance points for Los Angeles.

“I think that’s one we can look at and say, ‘OK, how do we fix these mistakes?’” said Mitchell, who scored 15 points in the third quarter to make the game competitive, then dropped in a ridiculous 10 points in the game’s final 35.4 seconds to nearly pull off the incredible comeback. “… This is a bump in the road, and a good one, in my opinion. I think this is something we can look at and say, ‘OK, we stayed with them, but this is what separated the game.’ And I’m proud of the way that we played and competed.”

As often as Jazz players talk about getting metaphorically punched in the mouth before punching back, perhaps a boxing analogy is apropos for this game — a heavyweight title bout in which one fighter was well up on points going into the 12th and final round, but in which the opponent suddenly connects with a staggering body blow, then a few pinpoint head shots, followed by a couple haymakers that produce a knockdown and an eight-count, only for the leader to survive the final, furious flurry, make it to the final bell, and earn a hard-fought decision.

The Jazz, who are still an NBA-best 24-6 overall, and who have still won 20 of their past 22, can live with Friday’s outcome.

Especially if they come away improved as a result of it.

“It felt like a playoff game — the intensity, the tough shots they were making all night,” said Gobert. “It was a great opportunity for us to just keep getting better.”

Clippers 116, Jazz 112

UTAH (112)

Bogdanovic 8-11 3-4 23, O'Neale 0-4 0-0 0, Gobert 4-7 0-0 8, Conley 5-11 4-4 16, Mitchell 12-27 7-9 35, Favors 2-4 2-2 6, Niang 0-1 0-0 0, Ingles 1-4 2-2 5, Clarkson 9-17 0-0 19. Totals 41-86 18-21 112.

L.A. CLIPPERS (116)

Batum 0-2 0-0 0, Leonard 10-24 9-10 29, Ibaka 4-11 0-0 9, Beverley 5-7 4-4 17, George 6-14 2-2 15, Coffey 0-0 0-0 0, Mann 1-1 0-0 2, Morris Sr. 7-11 0-0 17, Zubac 0-2 3-4 3, Jackson 2-3 0-0 5, Williams 8-14 2-2 19. Totals 43-89 20-22 116.

Utah 23 26 26 37 — 112

L.A. Clippers 31 26 22 37 — 116

3-Point Goals_Utah 12-34 (Bogdanovic 4-5, Mitchell 4-11, Conley 2-5, Ingles 1-4, Clarkson 1-7), L.A. Clippers 10-30 (Beverley 3-5, Morris Sr. 3-5, George 1-4, Williams 1-4, Ibaka 1-5, Batum 0-2, Leonard 0-4). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Utah 38 (Gobert 15), L.A. Clippers 45 (Ibaka 9). Assists_Utah 13 (Mitchell 5), L.A. Clippers 22 (George 5). Total Fouls_Utah 22, L.A. Clippers 20. A_0 (18,997)

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