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Belief removes doubt as Jordan Clarkson catches fire in Jazz rout of Hawks

Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson (00) drives as Atlanta Hawks forward Cam Reddish (22) defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021, in Atlanta.

Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson (00) drives as Atlanta Hawks forward Cam Reddish (22) defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021, in Atlanta. (John Bazemore, Associated Press)



Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

ATLANTA β€” Donovan Mitchell strolled over to the corner in anticipation.

The All-Star guard, who was sitting out Thursday due to an ankle sprain, inched as close to the court as he could late in Utah's 116-98 win over Atlanta because he knew what was happening.

Jordan Clarkson had someone in the corner and was putting him through a series of dribble moves. He needed just a miniscule amount of space and the shot was going up.

"Oh, yeah, this is it right here," Clarkson heard Mitchell shout from behind him in excitement as the shot went up.

By that point, everything Clarkson put up was "it." So much for the two games without a triple and the 23 missed 3-pointers in a row. Clarkson returned to true form in the second half, scoring 25 of his 30 points to turn a dog fight into a rout.

In a perfect world, all would forget about what happened in the first half Thursday: The bad shooting, the errant passes, the Mitchell-less offense that limped to just 39 points. But in order to truly appreciate Clarkson's epic second half, you have to recall the ugly first 24 minutes, and the games leading up to it.

Clarkson had been in a severe drought. He'd gone two straight games without hitting a 3-pointer and was 0 of 5 from deep in the first half Thursday. Making things worse, his teammates were missing shots, too. The only silver lining was that some poor Atlanta shooting (and to be fair, some good Jazz defense), kept the Jazz connected.

That set the stage for what turned out to be a drought-busting performance.

Throughout Clarkson's slump, he kept hearing the same thing: Keep shooting. He heard it from coach Quin Snyder, his teammates, management, and everyone up and down the organization.

It wouldn't have mattered if he missed 20 in a row, 30 in a row, or 40 in row; the message would have been the same.

"I've taken a couple guys out (for poor shooting) but not Jordan Clarkson," Snyder said. "I believe in him. When someone believes in you, the moments where you may have some doubt, you don't."

Belief can go a long way. On Thursday, Clarkson proved that. Following the team's worst offensive half of the season, Clarkson led what was arguably Utah's best.

He followed his coach's and team's advice, and kept shooting and shooting and shooting. This time, just about everything went down.

Almost immediately after checking in for the second half, Clarkson drove to the lane and hit a small floater. Two possessions later, he was freed up by a screen and pulled up. When that rattled in and broke a streak of 23 missed 3s over the course of three games, the flame went on.

Clarkson went 9 of 11 to score 25 of his game-high 30 points in the second half.

He scored on all three levels. Clarkson drove into the lane and scored through contact; he shook with spin moves for midrange looks; and he found the range on the long ball. He was 4 of 5 from deep in the second half to lead a scoring barrage.

After struggling to score just 39 points in the first half, the Jazz hung 77 in the second half to rout Atlanta and improve to a league-best 7-1 on the season. Bojan Bogdanovic added 23 points, Joe Ingles finished with 19, and Rudy Gobert had 13 points and 15 rebounds.

"It is crazy," said Trent Forrest of Clarkson's performance. "I mean, you see him in practice everyday shooting, and you get into games and just some of the stuff he does; it's crazy. He makes a lot of my job easy because I can just pass it and kind of just watch, so it's good for me."

By the time Mitchell walked over to the corner to cheer his teammate on, the damage had been done. Clarkson was scorching hot and everything he touched somehow found the bottom of the net. Mitchell just wanted in on the action, miming his own dribble moves as the ball splashed in.

It was easy to get caught up in the moment; but before the game, Mitchell, who will be re-evaluated on Friday to see the severity of his ankle sprain β€” right now it's believed the Jazz are just choosing to be cautious β€” had a message for the reigning Sixth Man of the Year.

"Bro, it's going to happen," Mitchell told him. "When you start hitting, it's going to keep falling."

That's just what happened on Thursday.

"It's why I love this team, my teammates, coaching staff, the organization; they all believe in me," Clarkson said. "It's just beautiful. That's why you want to go out there and win a bunch of games, play hard and compete for each other."

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