Coming into Thursday night, both the Jazz and the Clippers realized that this was a monumental game. For the Jazz, a win would keep them in the 4th seed in the West. For the Clippers, a victory would inch them to a half game behind Denver for the 8th spot, with just three games remaining in the regular season.
Thankfully for Utah, they chose the first scenario, defeating Los Angeles 117-95.
In a result that almost nobody expected, the Jazz had to rely on more than just their starters. In the first quarter, both Jae Crowder and Ricky Rubio left the game. Crowder departed after being hit by Derrick Favors in the eye, Rubio for hamstring soreness. Coach Quin Snyder said after the game that he had no official updates on their injuries, though they appeared not to be serious.
The Jazz started out strong, building a double digit lead early, thanks to the acrobatics of Mitchell. In a play that excited the sold-out Vivint Smart Home Arena, the rookie somehow scooped a shot over DeAndre Jordan, also drawing the foul. Mitchell led the Jazz with 19 points on the night.
However, with Crowder and Rubio missing nearly the whole game, it was up to the Jazz bench to step up, which they did.
Dante Exum, who has been gone most of the year, cashed in 10 points. Though Exum’s biggest highlight of the night came on the defensive side of the ball, blocking 7-foot-3 Boban Marjanovic, much to the delight of the home crowd.
When asked if he was surprised at what he’s seen from the contribution from Exum, Snyder said he’s always been confident. “I’ve just held on to what I saw from Dante in the pre-season, we got to see him a lot more than any of you did,” Snyder commented. “What I’ve seen from him since he’s been back is a real focus on his decision making.”
After game, coach Snyder caught up with the media:
Jonas Jerebko also came up clutch for Utah, going 5 of 6 from the field for 13 points.
“I think we started the game well, I think we almost pulled off a 48-minute-game,” said Jerbko after the game. “We played well on both ends of the floor, it was just good Jazz basketball.”
The Jazz defense continues to be the strong part of this team however, allowing the Clippers to shoot just 44% from the field. Austin Rivers scored 19, leading the Clippers. Lou Williams, who came into the game averaging just over 22 points per game, struggled immensely against the Jazz defense, going just 3-for-12 from field.
Along with their defense, Utah also looked incredibly strong on offense, committing just nine turnovers, their seventh lowest of the season.
“I think our guys understood how important of a game this was, our guys responded to that,” coach Snyder said following the game.
Just like Utah ended the Clippers season last year, defeating L.A. in seven games in the first round, it seems that the Jazz win last night might have shut the door on another Clippers season.
With the win, Utah still sits at the fourth seed, with three games remaining in the regular season. The Jazz will have two days off before traveling to L.A. to take on the Lakers on Sunday. Utah then returns home to host the Warriors on Tuesday, then goes to Portland on Wednesday.
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