SALT LAKE CITY — Paul George summed up the Los Angeles Clippers' strategy in the aftermath of their Game 3 win over the Utah Jazz on Saturday.
"He's not going to beat us tonight," George said Saturday.
George would be speaking about Donovan Mitchell. The Jazz's All-Star guard torched the Clippers in the first two games, averaging 41 points per game. So LA's plan was simple: Get the ball out of that man's hands.
The Clippers aggressively blitzed Mitchell and sent trapping double teams all night; and for the first time in the series, they effectively clogged his driving lanes.
Mitchell still ended the night with 30 points but needed 24 shots to get there. Utah's offense as a whole struggled Saturday, scoring 106 points despite an efficient night from 3-point range. So, did the Clippers find the strategy that could flip the series?
After watching film from Game 3, the Jazz aren't too convinced of that.
"They want to blitz me, I get off it," Mitchell said. "Next person gets into the paint and attacks, and we kind of go from there. We hadn't seen it. So I think it was something for us that was just unique, in the sense. As the game progressed, we started to feel it and get better at it. When we see it again, we'll be ready for it."
Their first chance will be Monday in Game 4 in Los Angeles (8 p.m. MDT, TNT).
The most preferred way to eliminate the Clippers from loading up on Mitchell would be to get Mike Conley back. Conley has missed the first three games of the series with what the team has described as a mild hamstring strain. Conley is questionable for Game 4 — just like he has been for the other games of the series.
Fortunately for Utah, that's not the only solution to combat the double team.
It starts with Mitchell, whose four-year progression in making reads is proving to be quite beneficial in a series featuring so many different defensive tactics, but it doesn't end there. If the Clippers are going to dedicate two people to one player, simple math dictates something somewhere will be open.
"There's things he can do to split a double team, but really he did a really good job in handling it," Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said of Mitchell's Game 3 performance against the traps. "Us being able to score in those situations, it's all of us. … He's gotten comfortable, whether bigs are dropped in pick and roll or up at the point of the screen or switching or blitzing. But we have to recognize those things as a team, too, because it requires other guys to make different reads and make different plays."
If Saturday's Game 3 was LA's blueprint to bog down Utah's offense, then Sunday's film session was finding the counters. The Clippers defense has a lot of length on the perimeter, which can shrink the floor defensively. In order to get around that, the Jazz have to be even more disciplined and conscious on exactly where they are on the court to generate open looks and driving lanes.
"They say football's a game of inches, but really, like in a sense, it is a game of inches where you're deep in the corner or deep on the high quadrant so if they want to trap, they want to blitz, they want to shift, you're making the easy reads and makes it easy for everybody," Mitchell said.
Snyder echoed his star guard, saying: "Inches, feet — those things matter if you think about contested shots or being able to drive to the basket. It's really impactful."
That's especially true if the Clippers come out again, as expected, and try to get the ball out of Mitchell's hands.
"They have a lot of length, and when we don't space for one another it allows them to guard multiple people at one time," Rudy Gobert said. "And we want to make sure we have better spacing. I think he's going to open up things for everyone."