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Clippers, Jazz, Donovan Mitchell, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard

Kawhi Leonard, Paul George react to Donovan Mitchell’s 45 points, Jazz Game 1 win

Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and the LA Clippers dropped Game 1 of their second-round series with Donovan Mitchell and the Utah Jazz, 112-109. It was an ugly performance from Los Angeles, who had a chance to tie the game in the final seconds despite shooting just 37.6 percent in the second half.

Leonard finished with a team-high 23 points, but wasn’t his usual, assertive self throughout the night. George added 20 points, but just an abysmal 4-of-17 from the field. Luke Kennard was essentially the lone bright spot for the Clippers, scoring 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting.

The night, however, belonged to Jazz star Donovan Mitchell, who exploded for 45 points on 16-of-30 shooting from the field. A whopping 32 of Mitchell’s 45 points came in the second half, sparking Utah’s comeback from a 13-point halftime deficit.

“He’s just super aggressive,” Paul George said of Mitchell after the game. “He’s super aggressive. He stays in attack mode. He’s got a strong body, so he uses that body. He’s explosive. I think he showed — he’s showing a lot growth in that area of just putting the team on his back and stepping up as their leader.”

Mitchell made life hell for Kennard and some of the Clippers defenders in the second half, knocking down stepback threes, getting to the rim at will, and setting up his teammates whenever he was blitzed.

“Donovan Mitchell had it going tonight so late in the game try to blitz and try to it do a little fire,” head coach Tyronn Lue added. “But he had it going, so hats off to him for having a good game. But we’ll look at the film and we’ll make some adjustments.”

The way Mitchell took over reminded many of what Luka Doncic did in the first round series vs. the Clippers, making tough shots while regularly control the pace of the game. Kawhi Leonard didn’t necessarily agree.

“They’re two different players,” Leonard explained. “Two different teams. But I mean obviously All-Star caliber player. You know, skilled and same ways, one-on-one, pick-and-roll. Yeah, you know, he’s just very aggressive. He’s going to keep shooting the ball and get his teammates involved. We all just have to take the challenge and try to slow him down.”

The Clippers took a double-digit lead late in the first quarter and maintained it for most of the first half. At one point in the first quarter, the Jazz missed 21 consecutive shots, but the Clippers hardly increased their their lead. Utah was always going to find their shooting stroke eventually, and the hope was that the Clippers had enough of a cushion to weather the storm.

“I think we had a pretty good rhythm in the first half,” Leonard added.” You know, I think we came in that third quarter pretty flat. But they are a good defensive team. They played hard tonight. They fought the whole game and they got the win.”

To put it plainly, the Clippers looked gassed in the second half. A lot of their jumpers were hitting the front of the rim, a key sign of fatigue. Help defenders didn’t rotate as well on a few of Mitchell’s drives, leaving him to play Luke Kennard one-on-one.

Reggie Jackson fouled out in only 17 minutes of action. Marcus Morris, Kawhi Leonard, and Paul George combined to shoot just 17-of-50 from the field.

And yet, the Clippers had a chance to send this game into overtime late.

“We just continue to give ourselves chances,” Paul George said. “I think that’s the positive. That terrible third quarter to start the half, up, what, 13 in the third to start it, and we just came out flat. They came out — I mean, they are playing desperation ball the whole night, and you know, we didn’t match it until late. But I think the positive out of it is we gave ourselves a chance; regardless if we gave this one up with a flat third, still gave ourselves a chance to win this.”

Mike Conley, who didn’t play in Game 1, was initially listed as questionable. He’s likely headed for another game-day decision. Meanwhile, Serge Ibaka remains in Los Angeles and away from the team as he continues his rehab from a nerve injury in his back.

Game 2 between the Clippers and Jazz will take place Thursday night back in Salt Lake City at 7PM PST.