Facing and feeling adversity they knew was coming at some point during their playoff series with the Clippers, Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert and the rest of the Jazz walked directly off the court at Staples Center, Gobert putting his arm on the shoulders of the limping Mitchell, after the closing seconds on Saturday night. Even with an ice bag wrapped around Mitchell’s ankle, there was purpose in their gaits and steam blowing out their ears.
They were … what’s the right word, miffed, ticked, sullied, disturbed, perturbed?
Beats me. Perturbed will do.
As they should have been, dealing as they were with something they’d suffered only once before in this postseason, a measure of trauma they had never experienced with Mitchell in the lineup.
Not just a loss, but a thumping.
The best news in the aftermath came from Quin Snyder, who said of Mitchell, who left the game with a handful of minutes left, looking somewhat hampered, “He’s fine. He could have gone back in the game. It didn’t make sense at that point to put him back in.”
That’s because the point differential was three touchdowns.
The game was over.
That good news was tempered a bit by Mitchell who said he felt “good,” but he didn’t want to elaborate on his dinged wheel, saying he could “manage it.”
Just as significantly, he had to manage the defeat.
“There’s a lot of things we can do better,” Mitchell said. “We’re not going to get too low or too high … this is a series.”
Snyder echoed the thought: “There are things we can do better and the guys know that.”
Mitchell and Snyder, as mentioned, made similar comments after the two wins on their home floor.
The importance of making those improvements suddenly seemed more urgent. And the absence of Mike Conley was much more evident in this game than any of the others. If the All-Star point guard can get back from his tweaked hammy, now would be a choice time.
The Clippers played with more physicality and force this time around, and the Jazz did not react and respond with similar aggression. “When a team picks up and gets into you, you have to attack them,” Snyder said. “… We just needed to open up the floor and space and attack.”
He added: “There’s going to be times when it’s difficult to stop them.”
There were a whole lot of those times on Saturday night.
The Jazz fell behind early and stayed there throughout, never really mounting any sort of serious challenge. They hung around until getting crushed in the fourth quarter, unable to match either the Clips’ intensity or their efficiency.
The Clippers shot 56 percent, 53 from beyond the arc, the Jazz just 42 and 43 percent. The Jazz matched L.A.’s total number of 3s — 19 — but it took them an additional eight attempts to get there.
Mitchell got doubled hard by the Clippers, harder, he said, than at any time since playing in high school. He struggled initially, but then started finding his teammates, who flung up too many errant shots. It’s difficult to get assists when guys are chucking wild pitches, but the Jazz only had 15 assists — against 13 turnovers. Not a decent ratio.
Still, the Jazz’s spoken descriptions of the defeat sounded not all that much different than their comments after six playoff victories.
They were resolute and looking to improve.
“We have to regroup and learn from it,” Snyder said. “No different than when you win a game.”
Joe Ingles said: “We’ll make some adjustments and we’ll come back. … We’ll come back and be better.”
“We allowed them to get comfortable,” Mitchell concurred. “… We’ll make those adjustments and get ready for Game 4.”
Until then, there are two divergent ways of characterizing what happened in the third game.
The first is that the Jazz absolutely blew an opportunity to slam the door on the Clippers. If they had gotten this win, they would have guaranteed a series triumph. Everybody knows no NBA team has ever come back from a 3-zip deficit in the playoffs.
The Clippers weren’t going to be the first.
Now they don’t have to be.
The second is that no reasonable soul, if there is any such thing in and around playoff basketball, expected the Jazz to sweep the talented Clippers. Not even those Jazz players. And as it turned out, the reasonable were right. Utah now leads L.A. in games, 2-1.
The Clippers still face the prospects of climbing a wall leaning toward them, as the percentage of teams in NBA playoff history that win series after losing the first two games sits at less than 10 percent, even though that’s precisely what the Clippers did last week in the first round against Dallas. It’s never been done twice.
And the Jazz are not the Mavs, they just looked like them here in their worst moments.
There’s also this: Utah has never lost a playoff series after winning the initial two games.
That said, whoever pointed out that each playoff game is an island unto itself couldn’t have been more correct, Game 3 being far different than either of the first two Jazz-Clippers affairs in Salt Lake. In those games, Mitchell scored 45 and 37 efficient points and the rest of the crew came along, all as the stars on the other side, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, acquiesced, strangely so.
There was no such strangeness, nor acquiescence on this occasion.
Indeed, George recaptured his star status, going for 31 points. And Leonard did him better, getting 34. Reggie Jackson continued to hurt the Jazz from distance, scoring 17, making five of six 3-pointers. And Nicolas Batum popped for 17 points.
This was the first time Mitchell (30 points), as good as he was, did not better the combination of George and Leonard. He wasn’t as good as either of them, but he was better than anyone else in the visitors’ white uniforms. At various junctures, he looked flat lonely out there.
Mitchell’s teammates registered what amounted to their worst game of the postseason, not giving anywhere near the needed support. Bojan Bogdanovic was front and center in that regard, going just 2 for 10 for nine ragged points.
“We missed some shots,” Ingles said. “We’ll go and watch it and figure it out and be better the next time.”
The Jazz will have to be, they had best be, if they intend to avoid winding up on the business end of the kind of Clippers history of which they want no part.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone, which is owned by the parent company that owns the Utah Jazz.