SALT LAKE CITY — For the second series in a row, the Utah Jazz will play Game 1 without their full All-Star backcourt.
MIke Conley will miss Tuesday's Game 1 with a mild right hamstring strain, the team announced after shootaround. Conley suffered the injury during Utah's Game 5 win over Memphis Wednesday.
Conley averaged 20 points and 10 assists in the first four games of the first round, and his loss might be felt even more than those numbers suggest.
The Clippers are expected to play long stretches of Game 1 with lineups that can switch all positions. Conley was key for the Jazz in beating those switches this season.
"I don't think there's any mystery that if you watch the Dallas series, the Clippers have played small. ... In Mike's case, he's someone that's able to attack a switch to get into the lane, and that's something for us collectively, I think, that we're going to continue to have to figure out as a team," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said.
The Jazz were 8-2 in the games when Conley didn't play and Donovan Mitchell did. And they can still score, too. The Jazz had a 119 offensive rating with Mitchell on the court and Conley off the court this season, according to Cleaning the Glass.
But that might not be the most predictive stat for a playoff series against a singular opponent, especially one that appeared to target this specific matchup.
"Obviously, we're a matchup the Clippers felt like was an advantageous match up for them," Snyder said.
LA lost a couple head-scratchers late in the season to drop it to Utah's side of the bracket — a decision that nearly backfired against Dallas in the first round. So what do the Jazz think of facing an opponent that may have been targeting them? (To be fair, the Jazz appeared to do the same thing last season in the bubble.)
"If that's what they was doing, that's what they was doing," said Jordan Clarkson, who wore a Kobe Bryant Lakers jersey for his media session. "If they're losing games trying to come play us. That's the fate they chose but we gonna come out there, lace them up and win a series — first one to four. If that's what they was doing, trying to manipulate that, it is what it is — we're gonna stick to what we do."
On paper, the Clippers do matchup well against the Jazz. They have two great wing defenders that can switch all over the perimeter; they can push Gobert out to the corner on offense; and they can hit midrange shots — the ones that Utah just so happens to give up. Oh, and they are one of the few teams in the league that can match the Jazz's firepower from deep.
It's no mystery what the Clippers are going to come out with, and it's no mystery why they preferred Utah over say the Lakers or Suns. And that was the case with Conley playing.
So how does Utah beat the switch? That answer is the same with or without Conley in the lineup.
"You have to attack at the point; it's not something that you just want to allow a team to switch and then just put you into isolation," Snyder said. "And then it's really what you do after you switch, and trying to recognize how other players are being guarded. And I think the ball movement, whether it's Joe or Donovan, or Mike. … They want the ball to stop. That's one way to get it to stop. And you know we have to be committed to continuing to move the ball."
Joe Ingles will likely slide into the starting lineup where he has had great success this season. And, in a case of looking for a silver lining, that actually will align the Jazz a little more naturally on defense. Ingles will take Paul George (and potentially resurrect an old playoff rivalry from 2018), Royce O'Neale will take Kawhi Leonard, and that leaves Mitchell to take whatever guard the Clippers have out there. With Conley in the lineup, Mitchell likely would have had to deal with George, at least initially.
While Ingles has struggled against switching defenses in the past during the postseason — namely against the Houston Rockets — Snyder said that was the past and this Jazz team is a much different team. For him, the key for all of this to go well sans Conley is simply to execute.
"There's no mystery. We've had teams switch one through five against this the entire season. We've had teams drop their bigs the entire season Donovan's been blitzed and pick and roll the entire season," Snyder said. "People have hard hedged against this the entire season, People have spaced Rudy in the strong corner the entire season. So all these things to me, it's a question of how we execute."
It's just easier to do that with an All-Star point guard. Snyder said the Jazz hope to get Conley back as soon as possible. Game 2 will be Thursday in Salt Lake City.