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Bojan the Kawhi Stopper? Jazz forward has surprised with 'superb' defense in 2nd round series

Utah Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic (44) and LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) fight for the ball during the NBA playoffs in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 10, 2021. The Jazz won 117-111.

Utah Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic (44) and LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) fight for the ball during the NBA playoffs in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 10, 2021. The Jazz won 117-111. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Donovan Mitchell said he jokingly told Bojan Bogdanovic: "We pay you to shoot!"

Joe Ingles laughs at what might be in Bogdanovic's future, stating: "He's gonna hurt himself because now for 82 regular season, he's gonna have to pick up full court."

Here's something no one expected at the start of the series: Bogdanovic would be a Kawhi Leonard stopper. OK, that might be a bit overstating it — really it was just in Utah's 117-111 win in Game 2.

Leonard, a two-time NBA Finals MVP, knows a bit about taking over a game late. You could sense that's just what he wanted to do on Thursday. The Los Angeles Clippers have already faced an 0-2 hole this playoffs. And while they got out of the previous one, it isn't necessarily something they're eager to do again.

But Leonard had someone standing in his way as he tried to put the lasting mark on Game 2: A 6-foot-7 Croatian forward who is far better known for his ability to shoot than his ability to defend. Strange things can happen in the playoffs.

Leonard was 1 of 4 in the fourth quarter for 2 points and had two turnovers. A lot of the credit goes to Bogdanovic for that.

Take a look at this play with over eight minutes to go in the game, as an example:

Bogdanovic not only stops Leonard's drive, but he's so physical that Leonard is forced to pass it out completely and reset. And once Leonard gets the ball back, Bogdanovic forces him into a contested fadeaway jumper.

"Bojan's defense was superb," Mitchell said. "He's been taking that role and taking that challenge. … He's accepted the role of taking that head on.

"Obviously we have Royce (O'Neale) and Rudy (Gobert) who are star defenders, but we have a guy like Bojan and JC (Jordan Clarkson) that gives us a boost. And that's really what changed the complexion of the game."

He did it all after landing on DeMarcus Cousin's foot in the first half and twisting his ankle. He was in visible pain. But after walking it off, he remained in the game.

One of the Jazz's supposed weaknesses heading into the postseason was a lack of wing defenders. O'Neale has been Utah's stalwart all season — usually tasked to guard the opposing team's star wings. But what would happen when there were two of them to defend the Clippers? It's why many fans were confused when the Jazz didn't choose a defensive wing in last year's NBA Draft and some even hoped a trade would bring one to Utah at the deadline.

Apparently, there's been another defender capable on the roster the whole time. The playoffs just needed to come around for it to be unlocked.

Before the postseason began, Jazz head coach Quin Snyder and Bogdanovic had a discussion about what the team needed from him in order to make a deep run. Obviously, the Jazz needed his shooting and his scoring, but Snyder stressed Bogdanovic had to step up in other areas, too.

"We were on him a little bit about making sure he's getting on the glass," Snyder said. "And he was very matter of fact that it's the playoffs, and he's ready, and he's locked in — and that's what you've seen.

"He's one of the more competitive guys that I've ever been around, and that translates to both ends of the floor. It doesn't show up as much on the defensive end — it's not as noticeable I should say — but, certainly, in this series, with those few guys, not just All-Star players but a couple of the very best players in the league, it's hard to contain. If anything, I just liked the way he's competing. Obviously, it's important to him. He knows how much we need him to win, and that's what matters to him the most."

That competitiveness has made it easy for Snyder to trust Bogdanovic in high-pressure situations — like facing up against one of the best players in the game in Leonard or taking a clutch shot at the end.

"I love it when he shoots late," Snyder said on Wednesday. "It's almost like regardless of what the game has been like, we throw ahead to him, he's got a contested corner 3 with three minutes left in the game, I feel like that shot's going in."

It was almost like Snyder could see the future. He was just a little off on the time.

With just under six minutes remaining on Thursday, Clarkson threw the ball ahead to Bogdanovic in the corner. He hit the 3 over the outstretched arm of Reggie Jackson to give the Jazz the lead for good.

"What Bojan did tonight shouldn't go unnoticed," Snyder said. "He epitomized — when you talk about a warrior, the way that he played on both ends of the floor. He always seems to want the ball at the important times in the game."


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