LOS ANGELES: Donovan Mitchell scored 45 points and Rudy Gobert made a clutch block at the buzzer as the Utah Jazz rallied to beat the Los Angeles Clippers 112-109 in the opening game of their NBA playoff series on Tuesday. Mitchell scored 32 of his game high 45 in the second half, carrying the Jazz on his back offensively after the team got off to a sluggish start in the best-of-seven Western Conference second round series. “I let my team down in the first half,” Mitchell said. “They were kicking my butt. I said, ‘It is on me’. I had to set the tone and I did.” Game two is tonight in Utah.
Mitchell got help on the defensive end from France’s Gobert, who is in the running to win his third defensive player of the year award. Gobert helped sealed the win when he denied Clippers forward Marcus Morris’s three-point attempt at the final buzzer in front of the crowd of 18,007 at the Vivint Smart Home Arena. The Jazz defense smothered attempts by Kawhi Leonard and Paul George before the ball ended up in the hands of Morris.
Despite coming off a short rest after beating the Dallas Mavericks in seven games, the banged-up Clippers stormed out the gate and took a big lead by going on a 22-2 run in the first quarter. Los Angeles led 25-18 at the end of the first and by 13, 60-47, at the half. The Jazz had six days of rest between series and it took them half the game to shake off the rust, but when they finally got going in the third quarter they outscored the Clippers 32-19 to level the score 79-79 heading into the fourth.
“We scrambled on the fly,” said Mitchell, who missed a month of the regular season with an ankle injury. “We did some things wrong and we are going to have to make some adjustments. We have to come to play every single day.” Bojan Bogdanovic and Jordan Clarkson chipped in 18 points each while Joe Ingles added eight points with seven assists in the win.
The Jazz, who are missing all-star guard Mike Conley with an injury, have never lost to the Clippers in the postseason, having earned wins in 1992, 1997 and 2017. Conley’s availability for game two is uncertain. Leonard scored a team high 23 points and George added 20 for the Clippers, who didn’t have much time to celebrate a hard-earned and strange series win over the Mavericks in which neither home team won a game until game seven.
Elsewhere, Joel Embiid scored a playoff career high 40 points and added 13 rebounds as the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers toppled the Atlanta Hawks 118-102 to level their Eastern Conference series at one game each. Tobias Harris tallied 22 points, Seth Curry finished with 21 and five threes, and Shake Milton came off the bench to score 14 points as the Sixers reserves scored 26 points in the second half in front of a crowd of 18,600 at Wells Fargo Center. Game three in the best-of-seven series will be played tomorrow in Atlanta.
Embiid is playing despite being diagnosed with a lateral meniscus tear in his knee. After eliminating the Washington Wizards in five games, Philadelphia came into the series knowing that all-star Embiid would be playing with a small tear in his right knee. Trae Young, who was the star of game one, finished with 21 points and 11 assists. He came into the game averaging 30.2 points in the postseason. Danilo Gallinari had 21 points and nine rebounds, and Kevin Huerter added a playoff-career-high 20 for the fifth-seeded Hawks.
Bogdan Bogdanovic scored 14 points while Clint Capela had 10. “Whenever we got close we just turned the ball over or gave up a basket,” coach Nate McMillan said. “We didn’t really do a good job of controlling or establishing our defense all night long.” The Hawks had a 14-20 record when coach Lloyd Pierce was fired and McMillan took over on an interim basis. Including the playoffs, the Hawks are 32-13 since then. – AFP