In the second game of a back-to-back set between two of the best teams in the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Clippers welcomed back to the court a trio of starters. Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Nicolas Batum returned to action after each missed multiple games due to injury.
It was a good thing for the Clippers that they did. After letting a halftime lead get away from them against the Utah Jazz in the first game of the two-game set, the Clippers rebounded Friday night and held on to their lead this time around to defeat the hottest team in the league, 116-112.
Building a 15-point lead at one point during the first half, the Clippers’ defense was able to force 11 turnovers throughout the game and cool off a Jazz team that entered the night winning 20 of their last 21 games, including running a nine-game win streak.
With a mix of playing swarming defense and another productive night from the bench that included 19 points from Lou Williams and 17 points from Marcus Morris Sr., the Clippers showed that with a healthy set of players they can compete with the best.
Having preached to focus on defense since he was first hired, head coach Tyronn Lue thought his team overall did a good job stopping the No. 2 scoring offense in the league.
“I thought we played good defense until the last 40 seconds of the game,” Lue said. “Yeah, that was embarrassing but it is something we will work on, otherwise I thought we did a good job defending tonight.”
Helping to anchor the defense, George came out strong despite missing the last seven games due to a foot injury, scoring 15 points in 26 minutes in his return to the starting lineup. Despite being on a minute restriction coming into the game, George showed no signs of rust as he scored seven points in the first quarter.
Leonard looked like his usual self as he chipped in 29 points and showed no lingering effects of the lower-body injury that kept him out for three games. Addressing the defensive lapses that occurred at the end of the game, Leonard said his focus is on one thing: winning.
“It’s something to learn from and Utah is a good team so we got the result we want,” Leonard said.
For the Jazz, Donovan Mitchell ended his night with 35 points on 12-26 shooting from the floor. The Clippers’ combination of George and Patrick Beverly on defense kept Mitchell in check for most of the night. Mitchell, however, went wild in the fourth quarter, scoring17 of his point totals in the final period as he attempted to bring Utah back into the game.
The Clippers will next take on the Brooklyn Nets in a Sunday night primetime matchup as the three-headed monster of Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and James Harden look to continue their perfect west-coast trip and complete a sweep of the Staples Center. The Nets enter the game on a five-game win streak despite struggling with injuries of their own, as stars Irving and Durant remain questionable for Sunday’s match-up.
Editor’s note: Featured image: Kawhi Leonard (2) goes to the basket against the Utah Jazz on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. The Clippers defeated the Jazz, 116-112. Photo credit: Mark Hammond/News4usonline