SALT LAKE CITY — It turns out that Kawhi Leonard guy is pretty good. Also, getting rebounds is pretty important.
The Utah Jazz (4-3) were reminded of both of those things Sunday night in Los Angeles in a 105-94 loss to the Clippers (5-2) at Staples Center.
After sitting out during Utah’s win over the Clippers on Wednesday, Leonard was back in the lineup for the rematch. It led to a different result.
Leonard entered Sunday’s game averaging 11.3 points during fourth quarters this season. With the Jazz leading by four entering the final frame, Leonard did what he has done all season. He hit two quick 3-pointers, drilled a midrange jumper right in the face of Royce O’Neale, who had just played near-perfect defense, and just like that the Clippers were up by six.
In the end, Leonard scored 18 of his 30 points in the final quarter to help Los Angeles come back for the win.
“He’s gonna have stretches where he scores ... but you can’t put him on the foul line and when you get a stop, you can’t give up second-chance points,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said.
As good as Leonard was, the Jazz would have likely returned to Utah with a win if they could have avoided the same problem that plagued them in Friday’s loss to the Kings: giving up offensive rebounds. The Clippers had 18 offensive boards leading to 27 second-chance points. That makes any loss hard to swallow.
The Jazz? They had five offensive boards and just six second-chance points. Yeah, Leonard was great, but that was the game.
“It’s too much to overcome if we are not getting bodies on people and not getting rebounds,” Snyder said. “We can have a really good possession defensively but if we don’t secure the ball, it’s wasted.”
So consider a lot about Sunday’s performance wasted. The Jazz held the Clippers to 39% shooting and 21% on 3-point shots. The defense was good enough — except for the rebounding.
In the fourth quarter, especially, the Clippers were successful in pulling Rudy Gobert away from the rim to challenge midrange shots, allowing players like Montrezl Harrell, who had six offensive rebounds himself, to slip in for boards and putbacks. The rest of the Jazz weren’t nearly good enough boxing out.
“We just have to block out and rebound,” Snyder said. “There’s no cohesion involved in that. We just have to have a stronger will to do that.”
Said Donovan Mitchell: “Nothing too complicated about it. Just gotta go get it.”
The rebounds and fouls (Utah committed 30 fouls and sent the Clippers to the line 34 times) wasted a good defensive effort. And it wasted a fantastic night from Mitchell on the offensive end.
Even as Leonard was claiming control of the game, Mitchell did his best to hold him off. The Jazz’s third-year guard had 36 points on 11-of-21 shooting and six assists to lead Utah. He had 17 points in the fourth quarter himself, but he was more focused on the things that he didn’t do at the end.
“Rebounds, turnover at the end, bad shot at the end,” Mitchell said. “The little things that pushed the (Clippers’) lead from three to seven.”
And pushed what looked like a win to a loss. The Jazz led by as many as 10 points in the second half and had Leonard in check for much of the night. Leanard had just five points at the half before erupting to end the game.
And that made Mitchell’s big night, Gobert 12-point, 14-rebound double-double and another nice night from Bojan Bogdanovic (19 points, four assists) moot.
“I like Donovan’s aggressiveness, but we don’t want to waste that because we can’t get defensive rebounds,” Snyder said. “So that’s 1-5, that’s collectively, we have to rebound the ball.”
The Jazz didn’t have their best offensive night, either. Utah shot 40% from the field and was 32.3% from deep. Mike Conley struggled again, going 2 of 10 for eight points. He had five turnovers to just one assist.
The Jazz will return home on Wednesday for a matchup with the undefeated Philadelphia 76ers.