Utah Jazz’s awful defense, wretched second half see them dealt shocking Game 5 loss by Clippers

Even with Kawhi Leonard out due to injury, Los Angeles rallies for a 119-111 victory, putting the Jazz on the brink of postseason elimination.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) LA Clippers guard Terance Mann (14) dunks and is fouled by Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) as the Utah Jazz host the Los Angeles Clippers in a Game 5 matchup, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 16, 2021.

The typically voluminous and incendiary 3-point shooting was there at the outset, but faded late.

And the stingy, top-five defense? Well, that just never showed up at all.

As a result of their game-long ineptitude at stringing some stops together Wednesday night, the Utah Jazz shockingly fell 119-111 to the Kawhi-less Clippers at Vivint Arena, and now trail their Western Conference semifinal series 3-2 — one defeat away from their incredible season being shockingly reduced to rubble.

“I didn’t feel like we were playing with a sense of urgency at the beginning of the game,” Rudy Gobert said afterward, the frustration and disappointment evident. “Obviously we were doing a great job making shots and scoring [early]; in a way, I wish we would have missed shots so maybe we would have thought that we need to play some defense to win this game. And we just didn’t.”

To Gobert’s point, the Jazz made 12 of their first 17 attempts from beyond the arc Wednesday, the Viv crowd joyously serenading those on the court with chants of “Bo-gey! Bo-gey!” as Bojan Bogdanovic drilled a half-dozen consecutive triples in the first period alone.

Utah wound up 17 of 30 beyond the arc in the half.

And yet, they led by a mere five points.

Key among their issues was a mind-boggling 11 turnovers before the break, wasted possessions which otherwise might have resulted in made baskets.

The key culprit, though? A defense that was solid and precise and disciplined during the regular season was error-prone and forgetful and, hyperbole aside, pretty abysmal for most of Game 5.

The Clippers were at 60.9% from the field in the first quarter, and at 54.8% at halftime. And they were nearly as efficient from 3 as Utah, if less prolific.

“We’ve got to understand that we’ve got to close out to these guys and make it tough on them,” said Donovan Mitchell. “… All these shots, we’ve got to make it tougher. We have no choice at this point.”

If the first half was worrisome, the Jazz’s third quarter was an unmitigated disaster by comparison.

Los Angeles came out of halftime intent on ratcheting up the intensity and the physicality, and by setting the tone early, the Clippers persuaded the referees to allow it. The Jazz, meanwhile, mostly responded only by complaining and settling for progressively worse looks.

Utah wound up shooting 6 for 22 in the pivotal quarter, including 0 for 10 from 3-point range, as LA wound up winning the quarter by a 32-18 margin and surging ahead for good.

“In the third quarter, we didn’t get as good of looks. Some of those shots were just harder shots, lower-percentage shots,” said coach Quin Snyder. “But, that’s who we’ve been the whole season.”

The Jazz made a few runs at it late in the fourth — rallying within four … then surrendering back-to-back buckets to Reggie Jackson. Eliciting some desperate fervor from the Viv crowd when the clearly-hobbled Mitchell drained a 3 … then allowing buckets by Paul George and Terance Mann.

Mitchell did his best to will the Jazz down the stretch, gutting through his sprained ankle and scoring 12 of his 21 late, but he wound up getting not nearly enough help late to do it.

Bogdanovic, who had 23 before the break, managed just nine after it. Jordan Clarkson, who had 14 in the first half, totaled only a single point in the second. That 17-for-30 effort from 3? Followed by a 3-for-24 performance.

George, on the other hand, stepped up in a huge way for the Clippers, finishing with 37 points, 16 rebounds and five assists. The Clippers, unimpeded by the Jazz’s defense all game long, finished shooting 51.3% overall and 16 of 40 from 3 (40%).

“They play smallball almost all game, so it’s big-time for us to communicate better,” said Bogdanovic. “We allowed a lot of guys easy looks. We gotta be better on the ball and defend shots.”

The Jazz’s postgame communication to the media was full of regret and disappointment and anger and desperation.

A season that carried legitimate championship aspirations is suddenly on the verge of being snuffed out. And so it was that they all agreed that there was no more time for excuses. They’ve got to put up or shut up.

“This was a winnable game for us. But we can’t sit here and sulk — the series is not over,” said Mitchell. “We’ve got a lot of life left to give and a lot of juice to give. We’ve just got to go out there and play with a level of desperation we’ve never played with before. Or we’ll be home.”

“We’ve got to do anything we can to win the game. We know we’re gonna need a better collective effort than we had tonight,” agreed Gobert. “Hopefully we have more urgency. If we lose, we’re going home. You can’t get more urgency than that.”

Game 6 — a potential elimination game — is Friday at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

After winning the first two games of this series, the Jazz have now lost three in a row. As a result, they’re now on the verge of three straight seasons of too-soon elimination.

“The way we played the whole season, we deserve to have a Game 7 on our home court,” said Bogdanovic.

“But we’ve got to play defense first.”

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