SALT LAKE CITY — They were down double digits and appeared done, a familiar script playing out for a second consecutive postseason round, when the Los Angeles Clippers finally found their zone.
Not in a metaphorical sense. Two defenders stationed atop the three-point arc. Three teammates behind them.
Five players shifting shapes and positions, the desperation palpable as they tried anything to make this last-chance strategy work, given nothing else had during the previous, dismal six minutes that had seen Utah’s lead balloon from four to 21 points.
Employing a zone, with its pockets of open space against one of the NBA’s best-shooting teams, was a risk. But for the first time in Game 2 of this second-round playoff series, it produced results that turned a sure-fire blowout and raucous party inside Vivint Arena into a taut back-and-forth into the final minutes.
After 27 points in the first half, Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell had lit the Clippers’ defense on fire to begin the second, finding open shooters for a dunk and three-pointer when a second defender rushed his way. But he finished the quarter making just one of his six shots, unable to generate the kind of looks he’d created against the Clippers’ switching defense.
His place as the unstoppable backcourt scorer replaced instead by Clippers guard Reggie Jackson, who scored 14 points in the quarter to give the Clippers the opportunity that had seemed laughable as they fell behind by 21 — a chance to even this series heading back to Los Angeles. Then came a 14-2 run by the Jazz that propelled them to a 117-111 victory at Vivant Arena.
Jazz forward Joe Ingles made a driving layup to tie the score at 101-101. After Nicolas Batum missed a corner three that would have put the Clippers back in front, Bogdan Bogdanovic knocked down a three-pointer on the move for a three-point Jazz lead.
After Paul George sank a pair of free throws to cut the Jazz lead to one point, 104-103, Rudy Gobert pushed the lead the Utah lead to six on a three-point play. As the Clippers failed to convert on offense, Utah pushed to a 10-point lead when Royce O’Neal and Ingles connected on back-to-back three-pointers with 3:07 left.
With a 113-103 lead, the Jazz would not be overtaken as the Clippers tried to rally. They cut Utah’s lead to 113-108 on George’s driving layup and free throw with 59 seconds left. Mitchell, who finished with 37 points, made a driving layup as he was fouled and pushed the lead back to eight points with the free throw.
Game 3 is Saturday at Staples Center.©2021 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.