SALT LAKE CITY — Things were a little strange on Tuesday: a capacity crowd, an 0-for-20 slump, a DeMarcus Cousins sighting, and a Quin Snyder challenge that just so happened to equal the exact margin of victory?
Let's go to the comments ...
"I was at the game and let me tell you that energy second half was insane!!!" — friendofafriend
There will be a time again when a lot of people gathered in one place making a lot of noise during a playoff game won't be newsworthy. We haven't reached that yet. The 18,007 fans that packed Vivint Arena served as the first capacity crowd in Utah since March 9, 2020.
They seemed awfully happy to be all back together. Vivint Arena returned to familiar playoff glory with screams, taunts and thunderous applause. It was loud. Really loud.
"It was probably the loudest crowd that I played in front of here in the NBA," Bojan Bogdanovic said. "Even when we were down, they were kind of cheering and pushing us and gave us extra energy to get back in the game. And then when we start to hit those shots — especially Donovan — I mean, the arena was really amazing and really loud."
After a season primarily played with annoying pumped-in crowd noise, even the opposing Clippers enjoyed the moment. Paul George, who was peppered with deafening "overrated" and "Push off P" chants, said he enjoyed being in that type of atmosphere again.
"I like it," he said. "That part doesn't get to me. It is respect. I have had good games here, I have had bad games here. That's part of this game. The crowd is going to be involved. I like that. As an opposing player you kinda want that."
George, though, said the crowd didn't have much to do with his 4-of-17 shooting night. There's probably about 18,000 who were in the stands who would disagree — not to mention a few more in the Jazz locker room.
"We really felt it throughout the whole game," Gobert said of the crowd. "It wasn't just at the end or in the key moments. We really felt it throughout the whole game and I think when we're down (13) and trying to come back and trying to grind to catch them. Having that crowd behind us really gave us a big lift."
"The Jazz played as poor a game 1 as they could have and still got the win and the Clippers played as solid a game 1 like they needed to and still fell short. If the Jazz's last series is any indicator then the Jazz will hammer the Clippers in game 2…" — freemale221g
As with many playoff games, you can usually find the narrative you want.
The good one for the Jazz: Utah missed 20 straight shots in the first quarter and ended up shooting just 34% as a team outside of Mitchell. That surely won't happen again, right? Oh, and Utah won without Mike Conley. Jazz in 5 — at least.
How about the good one for the Clippers? George and Leonard collectively aren't going to be outscored by Mitchell again. And George, recent playoff woes notwithstanding, is probably going to be better than 4 of 17. The Clippers should steal home court on Thursday.
See, it's easy. And it's not just fans that fall into the trap. Take a look at "Inside the NBA" after the game.
Shaquille O'Neal, who isn't exactly known to be the Jazz's greatest advocate, said: "Utah really played their best basketball and Clippers' two stars didn't play well and they only won by 3."
To say the Jazz played their best basketball is a mighty fine stretch, but there's some truth to his other point. Mitchell heavily outplayed both Leonard and George, and that'd be a tall task to do every game in the series. Not that it couldn't happen, especially considering Mitchell has averaged 34.1 points per game in his last 12 playoff games.
So what do the guys in the locker rooms think?
"They were playing desperation ball all night and we didn't match them till late," George said of the Jazz.
"I thought we were a little bit rushed," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said of his team's early performance.
Again, you can find what you want. So what does that mean moving forward? I can't believe I'm about to say this, but Charles Barkley may be right about this one thing: "I think every NBA playoff game is its own island — one game has nothing to do with the other one."
"The Jazz NEED Conley. Mitchell was so good that you can bet your last dollar that the Clippers are going to have a very different game plan in place for game two" — water rockets .
Following the game, George was asked if Mitchell had done anything that surprised the Clippers. His answer was "No."
"The volume of shots that we allow — that's on us," George said. "But nothing surprising."
That could prove to be a very telling comment.
Here's a play-by-play of Mitchell's surge to start the second half:
- Mitchell goes one-on-one against George and beats him for a layup.
- Mitchell crosses over between his legs, sending Reggie Jackson skidding and clearing plenty of space for him to elevate for a 3-pointer.
- After Nicolas Batum switches on to Mitchell, the Jazz star steps back and buries a 3.
- The Clippers try to blitz Mitchell on the pick and roll, but he splits the double team and flies in for a layup.
- Marcus Morris switches onto Mitchell and that causes Leonard to sink in to help defend the paint. Mitchell notices this and fires a pass to Joe Ingles for an open look at 3.
Five quality shots in five possessions. Two came after switches, two came on one-on-one plays and one came after a blitz (or a very poor hedge attempt). Mitchell's outburst changed the game — suddenly the Clippers were showing on pick and rolls, which opened up the paint for Gobert even when LA went small.
Going small was how the Clippers won the series against the Dallas Mavericks, and it was supposed to be their trump card against the Jazz. Mitchell's explosive start to the third quarter made them change those plans, as they quickly brought in Ivica Zubac to provide some rim protection. The Jazz outscored the Clippers by 8 when LA went to the small lineup. In short, the Jazz played like a No. 1 seed and forced the Clippers to adjust to them.
"He's very aggressive, he's gonna keep shooting the ball, get his teammates involved," Leonard said of Mitchell. "So we all just have to take the challenge and try to slow him down."
And the Clippers best bet to do that is probably turning to Leonard himself. Leonard only guarded Mitchell on a little over six possessions, according to NBA.com, or just 18% of the time that both were on the court together. In the first round against Dallas, Leonard guarded Luka Doncic 12% of the time in Game 1; by Game 6, that number was up to 46%.
He might need to do the same thing against Mitchell. If that is the adjustment then, yes, Conley sure would help.