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SALT LAKE CITY — Rudy Gobert thinks all the extra days of rest the Utah Jazz got — they've played just five games since the season wrapped up on May 16 — will pay off down the road.
"We think that at the end of the day, when it's the conference finals or NBA Finals, these times when we were able to rest is gonna be an advantage for us," Gobert said.
On Sunday, after waiting and watching, the Jazz finally know who they'll be playing for a chance to get to the Western Conference Finals. The Los Angeles Clippers beat the Dallas Mavericks 126-111 in Game 7 Sunday to earn the chance to play the Jazz in the second round. The series will begin on Tuesday at 8 p.m. MT in Utah.
The Jazz will now have to contend with the best two-way wing tandem in the NBA in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the best 3-point shooting team by percentage, and a team that found its footing late in the first round. The Clippers came back from a 3-2 series deficit to beat the Mavericks behind superstar performances from Leonard.
The Clippers can defend, they can shoot and they have one of the top players in the game in Leonard, who has shown time and time again how good he is come playoff time. Leonard had 28 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists in the Game 7 win. He had 45 points on 18-of-25 shooting in Game 6.
"I mean, he destroyed us," Dallas star Luka Doncic said. "That's what it is. He had a hell of a game. That's what he does."
Now, he's the Jazz's problem. Leonard played two games against the Jazz this season. In the first one, a 106-100 Jazz win back on Jan. 1, he had 20 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists. In the second, a 116-112 Clippers win in February, he scored 29 points.
The Jazz played an upstart Memphis team to start things; now, they'll play a championship-minded team.
The Grizzlies were a warmup; the Clippers are when the playoffs really begin.
Here's a look at how the Jazz fared against the Clippers this season.
Jan. 1: Jazz 106, Clippers 100
Led by Mike Conley's 33 points, including a momentum-swinging 3 late, the Jazz topped the Clippers at home to start off the new year. The Jazz survived a George-fueled fourth quarter rally to get the win. George scored 13 of his 25 points in the final quarter to the LA on a 27-9 run in the fourth to cut the Jazz lead to just one with 3:15 left. Conely, though, led a 7-0 run to seal the win.
Donovan Mitchell had 15 points, five assists and four rebounds and Gobert had 12 points and 9 rebounds in just 24 minutes as fought foul trouble.
Leonard had 20 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists.
Feb. 17: Jazz 114, Clippers 96
With both Leonard and George out, the Jazz had little trouble handling the Clippers. Gobert had 23 points and 20 rebounds as the Jazz outscored LA by 23 points in the second half to run away with the easy victory.
When Gobert was on the court, the Jazz held the Clippers to an offensive rating of 79. They'd have a bit more success a couple days later.
Feb. 19: Clippers 116, Jazz 112
This loss to LA ended a nine-game Utah winning streak and was just the team's second defeat since Jan. 8. How did the Clippers halt a historic run by the Jazz? A stifling defense. The Clippers switched out on the perimeter with some playoff-like intensity and that stalled the pass-happy Jazz offense.
The Jazz, who came back from down 15 in the first half to take a temporary lead in the third quarter in the game, called it a good test run for what the playoffs could bring.
That turned out to be prophetic.
Utah vs. Los Angeles Clippers
Game 1: Tuesday at Utah, 8 p.m., TNT
Game 2: Thursday at Utah, 8 p.m., ESPN
Game 3: Saturday at Los Angeles, 6:30 p.m., ABC
Game 4: Monday, June 14, at Los Angeles, TBD, TNT
*Game 5: Wednesday, June 16 at Utah, TBD, TNT
*Game 6: Friday, June 18 at Los Angeles, TBD, ESPN
*Game 7: Sunday, June 20 at Utah, TBD