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The LA Clippers are down 2-0 in their second straight playoff series, and panic has once again set in. For a cursed franchise that’s never been to the Western Conference Finals, let alone the NBA Finals, this feels like all-too-familiar territory.
Through two games, Donovan Mitchell is averaging 41.0 points per game on 52.5 percent shooting, including 12-for-27 (44.4 percent) from 3-point range. Utah has shot the lights out, and Game 2 felt like a severe missed opportunity for the Clippers to steal one on the road. They missed plenty of wide-open looks after working their way back into a fourth-quarter lead, and that kind of pitfall — especially with Mike Conley missing the first two games — could prove to be costly. Utah is a legitimate title contender, and no one should be surprised if this group rains on LA’s parade.
However, this series still feels like it could go the distance, even if it’s been overwhelmingly “Jazz” to this point. Here are three reasons why it’s too soon to count the Clippers out just yet.
3. The Law of Averages
Through the first two games, the Jazz have shot a blistering 41.6 percent from 3-point range, making 37 attempts in total. The Clippers, meanwhile, who were the NBA’s most efficient 3-point shooting team this season at 41.1 percent, have made 10 fewer 3s than Utah, shooting at a 37.5 percent clip. That’s not a terrible percentage, and the Jazz out-producing LA from long range isn’t terribly surprising; they led the league in 3-point attempts and makes, after all.
But the Clippers’ efficiency is down almost four whole percentage points, and in Game 1, they shot just 5-for-19 on what NBA.com calls wide-open 3s, where the nearest defender was six-plus feet away. After missing a whole heap of wide-open 3s again in Game 2, there’s obvious room for improvement as the series shifts to the friendly confines of the Staples Center.
In a seven-game series, there’s a lot more room for variance, which can doom 3-point shooting teams. In such small sample sizes, one cold streak can undo an entire season of hitting triples at an elite clip. But if we’re looking at reasons to believe this Clippers team can make this a series, we have 72 games’ worth of data pointing to this team being dangerous from beyond the arc. The Law of Averages says they’re due for a hot shooting night.
2. Jazz are banged up
As if Mike Conley missing the first two games with a hamstring injury wasn’t bad enough, late in Game 2, Donovan Mitchell tweaked his ankle in a collision with Paul George. He was visibly upset, limped around the court for those final minutes and reportedly limped to the locker room after the game.
In postgame media availability, Mitchell was adamant that he was fine and seemed to be in good spirits fielding questions about the ankle tweak. But considering his problems with this exact same ankle just a few weeks back, it’s clear Utah needs Conley back soon to take some of the pressure off Spida to do everything.
Mitchell was running on fumes in Game 2, and it showed in his play: After dropping a scintillating 27 points in the first half, he scored only 10 the rest of the night on 4-of-13 shooting. Utah had enough to eke out the win in front of their home crowd Thursday night, but with the series shifting to LA, and with Conley still out and Mitchell possibly dinged up, the Clippers have a golden opportunity to bounce back.
1. They’ve done this before
The Utah Jazz are obviously a different animal than the Dallas Mavericks, but the similarities here are undeniable. Going down 2-0, looking completely defeated and getting torn up by an opposing superstar guard before winning two straight and rallying to win the series in seven? There’s a chance that spotting a team like Utah a two-game lead could prove to be fatal, but the Clippers haven’t played a home game yet.
The old saying “a series doesn’t start until the road team wins a game” still applies, even if the Clippers will have to win at Vivint Smart Home Arena at some point if they want to advance. In any case, LA has been here before, extremely recently, and they have enough talent to win two home games to make this a series again.
Kawhi Leonard has been locked up by Bojan Bogdanovic, who’s limited him to 22.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game on 47.2 percent shooting. Those aren’t terrible numbers, but they’re far below what the Clippers came to expect from their leading superstar during the regular season, and again, can we really expect Bojan Bogdanovic to limit Kawhi like that for a whole series?
Paul George wasn’t terrible in Game 2, but he similarly has yet to make his mark on this series. It’s far more likely Leonard takes the lead there, but no matter what, the Clippers haven’t shot as well as they’re used to, they’ve been torched by Mitchell (who may not be 100 percent), and they’ve still been in both games. The Jazz are a damn-good team that’s fully capable of making short work of the Clippers if they don’t come to play, but there are still a few signs LA will make things interesting again in Game 3.
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