After winning two in a row against the Minnesota Timberwolves and Portland Trail Blazers, the LA Clippers came into Salt Lake City on Friday night with momentum on their side. But a dreadful shooting performance prevented the Clippers from coming out on top, and the Utah Jazz handed them their second loss of the season by a final of 100-106.
LA's shooting woes began in the first quarter, as the team scored just 19 points on 6-of-24 shooting from the field. Utah, on the other hand, logged 31 points on 13-of-25 shooting.
The Jazz continued their barrage in the second quarter, building an 18-point lead in the early minutes of the frame before the Clippers began fighting back. LA consistently cut into Utah's advantage until they trailed 42-43 with less than two minutes to go in the half, but a late 8-0 Jazz run put them up by nine at the break.
The second half followed a similar pattern, as the Clippers struggled to score while the Jazz poured it in from three-point range. Utah built its lead up to 20 points about halfway through the third quarter and maintained a significant advantage until, once again, the Clippers began to fight back.
The fourth quarter was all Clippers, as the team outscored the Jazz 35-22 behind a strong effort from Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. LA got within a point with about three minutes to play in the frame, but ultimately, the Jazz pulled away.
With the loss, the Clippers fell to 4-2 on the season — tied with the Los Angeles Lakers for the second-best record in the Western Conference. Only the Phoenix Suns — who the Clippers play on Sunday — have a better record at 5-1.
But before we take a look at LA's next matchup, let's dive into some takeaways from the Clippers' most recent outing.
LA Clippers Fight to the Finish
Even though the LA Clippers came up short on Friday night, there was a lot to like about the effort they gave down the stretch.
The team didn't have it through the first three quarters. The Clippers got high-quality shots all night long, but they couldn't get them to go down. Because of that, it wouldn't have been a huge surprise if LA emptied its bench early in the fourth quarter. But instead, the Clippers continued to stick to the gameplan and fell just short of mounting what would have been one of their most impressive comebacks in years.
Paul George was proud of his team's effort, saying he felt like the team did enough to win but couldn't climb out of the hole they dug themselves at the start.
"This is a hard-working team," George said. "We played hard, and never counted ourselves out. We continued fighting until the end."
George's stat line is probably the best way to describe how this game went for the Clippers. The star wing finished with 25 points, eight rebounds, six steals, four assists and a block across 38 minutes, but he also shot just 6-of-22 from the field.
Among players who took more than one field goal attempt, only Ivica Zubac and Luke Kennard shot above 50% from the floor.
If the Clippers had made even a few more shots early on, it feels like this game would have gone their way. Fortunately, a repeat performance like this probably won't happen all that often this season — especially as the team continues to build on-court chemistry.
Kawhi Leonard's All-Around Game is Something to Behold
Kawhi Leonard has long been regarded as a dominant scorer, rebounder and defender, but it wasn't until recently that he developed a reputation as an above-average ball-handler and playmaker.
Leonard averaged a career-high 4.9 assists per game in 2019-20 — a considerable jump from his previous high of 3.5 — and it's looking like he could be on his way to setting more personal records this year.
Despite his lackluster shooting performance, Leonard arguably had his best all-around performance of the young season on Friday night, logging 20 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists across 39 minutes. Most impressively, Leonard didn't commit a single turnover. In fact, over his last two games, he's dished out 16 assists without turning the ball over.
Those numbers probably aren't sustainable, but the fact that Leonard has notched seven or more assists in three of his first four performances is an encouraging sign about his place in Tyronn Lue's offense. Not only is Lue giving him space to score, but he's allowing Leonard to show off how efficient a playmaker he can be as well.
Leonard has only recorded one triple-double to date, but recent evidence suggests he'll add to that tally this season.
Mike Conley Burns the Clippers... Again
There are always players who seem to play their best basketball against the LA Clippers. J.J. Barea is one. Joe Johnson is another.
But if one stands out from all the rest, it's got to be Mike Conley. The veteran point guard has had a number of memorable performances against the Clippers over the years, and last night's should be right up there.
On a night when the Clippers struggled to get any of their shots to fall, Conley showed them no mercy and poured in 33 points on 20 shot attempts. He was especially potent from three-point range, connecting on seven of his 14 attempts from beyond the arc. And in a contest the Jazz won by six, Conley was a game-high +24.
It's hard to say what it is that compels Conley to save his best basketball for the LA Clippers. Perhaps he's still holding onto the days when his Memphis Grizzlies were LA's fiercest rival. Maybe he's got something against boats. Who knows.
No matter the reason, Conley is always someone the Clippers will need to account for.