There were a few crazy minutes in the third quarter of Thursday night’s Game 2 when Utah Jazz fans maybe allowed themselves to believe that their team might just be able to put the Clippers away relatively easily.
Pretty misguided, in retrospect.
A 21-point lead was erased by befuddlement against a surprisingly deployed and shockingly effective zone defense. An attack that was hyper-efficient all night long thanks the your-turn, my-turn exploits of Donovan Mitchell and Jordan Clarkson saw the wheels start to come off as those two tired in the fourth quarter.
And instead of a pretty dominant 2-0 lead in their Western Conference semifinal series … well, as it turns out, they’ve still got that, thanks to everyone else finally stepping up just in time to pull out a 117-111 victory at Vivint Arena.
“I don’t feel like I have to go out there and do everything. That’s a credit to my teammates, a credit to the guys we have on this team,” said Mitchell. “Because they can go out there and make plays, everybody has elevated their game each year. … It’s great to have a group of guys that trust you, and [that] you trust, and you just go out there and play and have fun.”
This “fun” was of the stomach-churning, nerve-frying variety, as it turned out, but to each their own.
As it went, the Jazz remained stagnant a bit too long in the second half and finally surrendered the lead, Los Angeles just chipping away and surging ahead 101-99 midway through the fourth quarter. Coach Quin Snyder counterintuitively sent Mitchell to the bench for a spell … and all of Utah’s supporting cast suddenly came alive.
“Donovan understands how to pick his spots, and we all have confidence in those other guys shooting the ball,” Snyder said.
And it with good reason, as it was proven again.
Joe Ingles somehow banked in a bonkers teardrop layup from nearly off the top of the backboard.
After a Nic Batum 3 rimmed out, the Jazz made a rare foray into transition, and saw Bojan Bogdanovic lean into a triple.
Another stop followed … then Rudy Gobert went screaming down the lane, took a feed from Ingles, and rammed home a thunderous dunk-and-one.
Marcus Morris bricked a 3 … then Royce O’Neale canned one from the corner.
The Jazz defense tightened up, too: Patrick Beverley got challenged by Gobert and missed in the lane, Morris was off-line on another 3, Kawhi Leonard couldn’t convert on a challenged layup try …
And then Ingles finished the stretch by burying a 3 himself.
Just like that, Utah had reeled off a massive, game-changing, 14-2 run to go up 113-103 with just over 3 minutes to play.
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“It’s the beauty of our team, and it has been all year,” Ingles said. “… Just figuring out matchups, and who’s on who, and who we want to attack, and where we want to go at different times. Again, the beauty of our team is that we’ve got a lot of guys that can handle the ball and make plays — and obviously make shots.”
It would prove enough, as they held on through the tense final moments.
Utah had survived a brutally rough offensive period for a second consecutive game, and collectively forged enough resilience to overcome it.
“We’re gonna have our stretches — we missed  straight in Game 1, then we couldn’t buy a bucket this game when they went to zone. So it’s going to happen,” Mitchell said. “But the biggest thing for us is our will. I completely trust my teammates, they trust me to do what I do, so it was no surprise to see them go out there, get stops, and get us up 10.”
The All-Star guard, who appeared to be considerably slowed and robbed of some of his earlier athleticism as the game progressed, but who promised he was fine afterward, finished with 37 points on 15-for-29 shooting. Clarkson — who went scoreless in the fourth — still notched 24 points on an efficient 9-for-15 overall and 6 of 9 from deep.
Meanwhile, Ingles, who’s faced criticism for a reluctance to shoot and for being off-target when he has, had his best game of this postseason, racking up 19 points on 7-for-10 from the field in his latest start for the still-injured Mike Conley.
Gobert contributed 13 points, 20 boards and three blocks, while Bogdanovic chipped in a relatively quiet 16 points, but drew raves for his physical and fundamentally-sound defense on Leonard and Paul George.
“We always joke with him, ‘We pay you to shoot!’” Mitchell joked.
“He’s going to hurt himself, because now for 82 regular-season games, he’s going to have to pick up full-court!” Ingles added, cracking up as he said it.
And so it was that the Jazz managed to overcome too many turnovers committed, too many offensive rebounds allowed, too many free throws missed.
It turned out to be decidedly not easy at all.
And yet, as the series now shifts to Staples Center in Los Angeles, the crucial 2-0 lead doesn’t count any less.
Not that they’re taking anything for granted.
“I‘m proud of our team, the way we played, [but] we know we’re playing against a team they were down 0-2 in their last series and came back and won,” said Snyder. “So now, we don’t get too high, don’t get too low, and keep trying to play the way that we know we have to play.”