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Jazz blow 25-point lead and lose series to Clippers

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, right, shoots as Los Angeles Clippers guard Terance Mann defends during the first half in Game 6 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series Friday, June 18, 2021, in Los Angeles.

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, right, shoots as Los Angeles Clippers guard Terance Mann defends during the first half in Game 6 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series Friday, June 18, 2021, in Los Angeles. (Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press)



SALT LAKE CITY — Before Donovan Mitchell said anything else, he had to tip the cap to the person that signed Utah's death sentence.

"Salute to Terance Mann," he said. "I've played against Terance since middle school. He's always been a dog and a warrior."

A dog and a warrior — Friday showed the Jazz had too few of those.

Utah came out of halftime 24 minutes away from forcing a Game 7.

Mitchell played at an elite level in the first half, Jordan Clarkson somehow was even better, and Utah had Mike Conley back. That all led to a 25-point lead once Mitchell buried a 3-pointer just out of halftime break.

Game over, right? The Jazz sure thought so.

The 25-point lead was suddenly gone with an entire offseason to think about it — Clippers 131, Jazz 119.

It was the fourth straight loss to end the season and it came in one of the most shocking ways possible.

"This hurts more than last year because we were up again," Mitchell said. "This is going to eat at me for a long time watching the Clippers and the Suns playing the conference finals, even watching the finals."

It'll be hard to shake off the feeling that it could have been the Jazz. Mostly because the Jazz's season shouldn't have come to an end on Friday — not with how things started.

After being a game-time decision, Mitchell scored 16 points in a phenomenal first 12 minutes. Clarkson one-upped him in the second quarter, scoring all 21 of his points in the quarter Friday as the Jazz roared out to a 22-point halftime lead.

What happened after that was an encapsulation of the series: The Clippers adjusted and the Jazz didn't respond.

The Clippers noticed Rudy Gobert wasn't his regular self after he bit on a pump fake and came down hard on his hip early in the game. They attacked the paint relentlessly — not necessarily to score but to get Utah in rotation. That drive-and-kick game ended with the same result just about every time: an open 3-pointer.

LA went 14 of 19 from 3-point range in the second half. That kind of shooting wipes out a 20-plus point lead pretty quickly.

"They were 74% from 3, which is an unusual number," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "That said, obviously there's other things that we didn't execute on, beginning with being able to defend the ball out front."

Utah couldn't defend on the perimeter; and when Gobert slid over to help, he had no chance of getting back out to the 3-point line to contest the shot. It's always been one of the few flaws in Gobert's game. Add in a hip injury and he had no chance.

"I just couldn't feel my right side," Gobert said. "I couldn't move."

And without him being able to contest out on the perimeter, the Clippers stepped into practice shot after practice shot. The funny thing about NBA players is they are pretty good shooters when they're wide open.

Mann proved that time and time again. The Jazz left Mann open in the corner nine times on Friday — he hit on six of them. Mann hadn't had a 30-point game since high school but finished with 39 points, including 20 in the third quarter, to lead the Clippers' charge that ended Utah's season.

"He's good. He's really good," Mitchell said. "And tonight he showed it on the biggest stage and kind of won it for them in a sense."

And after all the talk of resilience and togetherness, the Jazz wilted. They scored 71 points in the first half and 47 in the second. While LA shot an astounding 71% during the second-half rally, the Jazz shot in the 30s.

Mitchell, as he's done all series, tried to will Utah to the win and finished with a near-triple-double: 39 points, nine assists and nine rebounds; but, once again, he didn't get enough help. Joe Ingles had 0 points in the second half and ditto for Clarkson, and Mike Conley made just one field goal all night. That made it pretty easy for Mann and Co. to come storming back.

"I don't think any of us expected for Terance to go off the way he did, so that was a bit of a punch and we weren't ready for it," Mitchell said.

And they didn't adjust when they hit one shot, or the next, or the next. When the rest of his teammates joined in on the party — Reggie Jackson had 28 points, Paul George had 27 and even Patrick Beverly hit three 3s — it was too late for the Jazz. The Clippers knew they could find the shots they wanted. And with the first full-capacity crowd on hand at Staples Center, they were taking full advantage of the moment.

The Clippers went from being down 25 in the third to winning by 12 — a 37-point swing in one half; that's how Utah's season ended.

"They made adjustments and we've made great adjustments as a coaching staff as a team, but I think for us we just didn't execute it on the floor," Mitchell said. "And that's on us. It ain't on anybody else but the guys on the floor."

And now, they won't be taking the floor again this season.

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