For the first two games of the Western Conference semifinals, the NBA’s top record-holder Utah Jazz proved they were legitimate contenders by earning a 2-0 lead over the superstar-led Los Angeles Clippers.
Despite not having All-Star guard Mike Conley, who is sitting out due to a hamstring strain, Utah’s remaining All-Stars Donovan Mitchell and three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert stayed firm in leading, while other key cogs filled in the gaps.
Mitchell is currently averaging 32.7 points per game, the highest among active players in the postseason, while Gobert is cruising to a double-double average of 15.7 points and 13.9 rebounds, with 3.0 blocks, and a 73% shooting clip to boot.
While Sixth Man of the Year finalist Joe Ingles was elevated as Conley’s stand-in starter, Fil-Am star Jordan Clarkson, meanwhile, is staying true to his reign as the new Sixth Man award winner after scoring 24 points in the crucial, momentum-securing Game 2 win.
As the Jazz continue to parade their well-oiled rotation, the Clippers are once again out to prove that they can shed their “cursed” history, and come back from a 0-2 deficit for the second playoff series in a row.
Although he has slowed down against the smothering Jazz defense, Kawhi Leonard is still a dangerous two-way machine with a multi-titled resume under his belt. Paul George is still a bona fide star despite his well-documented postseason collapses.
But aside from their established leaders doing what’s expected from them, the Clippers’ role players are also finding their groove as they get deeper into the playoffs.
Reggie Jackson, once a Detroit Pistons reject, erupted for 29 points in the Game 2 loss.
Luke Kennard, who was only recently collecting DNP (did not play) decisions, dropped 18 points off the bench in Game 1, while Marcus Morris, a notorious on-court agitator, sank seven three-pointers in the series-clinching Game 7 win against the Dallas Mavericks.
From day one of the new season, both the Jazz and Clippers were already established as star-studded teams with great supporting casts. Right now, their respective title hunts all boil down to establishing a rhythm, and sticking to what works best.
Will the Clippers steal back momentum to their side like they did in the previous round, or will the Jazz push them to the brink of adding another second-round exit in their stained history books?
Game 3 is set at 8:30 am on Sunday, June 13, Manila time.