SALT LAKE CITY — The streak is over. The Utah Jazz lost to the LA Clippers 116-112 on Friday, ending a nine-game winning streak and handing the team just its second loss in 22 games.
Here are the talking points after Utah's loss to the Clippers from KSL.com commenters.
"I won't be getting too excited fans, the Jazz are who they are. Come playoff time means choke time. Enjoy the good wins they have built up, it won't last. Ya they have a lot to prove to me come playoff time." — Tony D.
This was probably Utah's toughest matchup of the season. A full-strength Clippers team is on the shortlist of true championship favorites, and according to FiveThirtyEight are the championship favorite (the Jazz are No. 2 — not bad). While it's hard to truly quantify effort, this much is clear: The Jazz had the Clippers' full attention on Friday. Los Angeles ratcheted up the defensive intensity to playoff level. It was like they wanted to make a statement against the No. 1 Jazz.
"They are the best team in the NBA right now record wise," Clippers coach Ty Lue said. "We knew that they won 20 of 21 coming into tonight. We got our guys back, and we wanted to win this game."
So does the loss mean the Jazz are toast come playoff time? That thought seems to be a stretch.
For anyone to truly know what Utah will accomplish in the postseason, the playoffs have to actually happen. For now, it's simply projecting and guess work. Are they the 2014-15 Hawks? Or the 2014-15 Warriors? Or are they somewhere in between?
The Jazz have gone on long winning streaks in the regular season before only to be ousted early in the playoffs, and they have had some luck on the injury front (or at least haven't been hit as hard as other teams), so skepticism isn't unfounded, but there was really nothing about Friday's game that raised enough alarms to think the Jazz suddenly can't compete in a seven-game series against the Clippers — or anyone else for that matter.
Los Angeles needed some big moments from Patrick Beverly and Marcus Morris and some late offensive rebounds to clinch the game, and the Jazz had some bad 3-point luck (going 12-of-34 from deep).
But if you are looking for a reason to be skeptical of Utah's chances after Friday, here's this: The Clippers altered the Jazz's shot chart maybe more than any team this season. Utah shot just 38% of their total shots from 3-point range (down from their season average of 44%) and just 19% of their shots came at the rim (down from 30%).
Teams have been trying to do that to Utah for a while now — the Clippers just had the defensive bodies to do it. Still, one made three here and an extra rebound there and fans would be celebrating a 10th straight win. Losses happen. The Jazz just haven't had a lot lately.
"Mitchell isn't an elite player yet. He can't carry a team. … The Jazz do best when many players score in double digits. I'm not surprised in the least the Jazz lost." — Fighting_For_My_Life
It would be hard to find anyone in the Jazz locker room that wouldn't agree the team is better when the ball is moving and everyone is scoring. But in the playoffs — and make no mistake, the Clippers defended with a playoff intensity on Friday — things aren't that easy.
When passing lanes get filled and plays get blown up, it's often up to one player to make things happen. Mitchell, like he did during last year's postseason, showed he can do that. Look at this play in the third:
Utah's possession had broken down and that left Mitchell on an island against one of the best perimeter defenders in the game. A couple moves later and he was banking in a runner. That's the type of stuff he can do, and the type of stuff Utah will need in the postseason.
He scored 29 points in the second half and scored 12 points in the final 1:23 of the game as he tried to bring the Jazz back. Mitchell isn't perfect and his first half was poor, but this might not be the game to go after him (he scored 35 points, after all).
The Jazz are best as a team, no doubt. It's why they don't have a true MVP candidate despite having the best record in the league, but they need someone who can get a bucket in the playoffs — and Mitchell can do that.
"Rebounds rebounds rebounds. Did I mention rebounds? It's all good, we had them scared at the end. Jazz are winning at a 90% clip recently, they will be just fine." — PowellBound
After everything else, PowellBound is probably right: rebounds are what lost the game for the Jazz. The obvious example came late when Leonard got two offensive rebounds in the final minute of the game. Those rebounds resulted in just one point for the Clippers, but more importantly drained 20 seconds off the clock just as the Jazz were rallying.
That wasn't an isolated incident either. The Clippers got 11 offensive rebounds leading to 16 second-chance points. The Jazz, meanwhile, had just 8 points off their six offensive boards.
"Their offensive boards in the first part of the game hurt us," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "They got a few threes off of some of their offensive rebounds."
The Jazz are fourth in the league in offensive rebounding percentage, according to Cleaning the Glass, but were beat to the boards Friday by a longer and taller team. On Leonard's late-game rebounds, for example, he was able to outreach Royce O'Neale (you could argue O'Neale's boxout could have been better, though).
Utah's lack of length on the wing hurt them on Friday and that may be something to keep an eye on going forward. The Jazz are the No. 1 rebounding team in the league, but that stat might not mean much in a seven-game series against teams with good rebounding forwards.