Clippers, Jazz are out to right last postseason’s wrongs – Daily Bulletin

The second-round Western Conference playoff pairing that tips off Tuesday at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City will feature the top-seeded Jazz, the fourth-seeded Clippers and the specter of the 2020 Denver Nuggets.

Both the Clippers and Jazz were on the wrong side of history in the Florida bubble, both victims of a Denver team that became the first in NBA history to come all the way back from a 3-1 deficit in consecutive playoff series – starting in the first round against Utah and then in the conference semifinals against L.A.

Utah, which wasn’t then burdened with the championship expectations the Clippers were (or that the Jazz are now after finishing an NBA-best 52-20) ran it back this season with its nucleus intact, and its personnel admittedly motivated by the way the previous season ended.

“That fueled a lot of this season,” Donovan Mitchell, Utah’s electrifying shooting guard, said recently.

Meanwhile, with the championship pressure unabating, the Clippers made major changes after blowing a 3-1 second-round series lead for the second time in six years: Starting with Doc Rivers’ departure and the subsequent promotion of Tyronn Lue from assistant to head coach, the Clippers began this postseason with only eight players who were with the team for last season’s anguished finish.

And those who were in the bubble last season would prefer to leave that whole thing there.

“Let’s not even get into last year,” Paul George said Sunday, having no desire to revisit the Game 7 second-half horror show against Denver, when he and Kawhi Leonard combined to shoot 2 for 18 as the Clippers’ 12-point lead turned into a 15-point defeat.

“We’ve got to look going forward,” Lue said after their series-clinching 126-111 victory over Dallas. “We can’t keep looking behind at what happened. That (stuff’s) over. So we’ve got to keep moving on and getting ready for the second round.”

And what a tantalizing second-round matchup awaits. Heading in, Utah – with Mitchell and defensive stalwart Rudy Gobert at center – promises to be as challenging an opponent as Luka Doncic and the Mavericks were. And Dallas pushed the Clippers to the brink; twice they faced win-or-go-home games, coming treacherously close to this season’s championship pursuit ending even before last season’s did.

But during the course of the series, Lue’s squad proved it could course-correct when necessary and, more, that it could dig deep. In the end, the Clippers became just the fifth team in NBA history to win a series after losing the first two games at home.

“They definitely got us war-ready,” said George, who averaged 23.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.2 assists in the first round and spoke Sunday like someone who has dug in for a long arduous journey.

“It’s a marathon,” he said. “We’re not worried about how long it takes to get to what we want to get to. We’ve just got to get it done. We’ve got to be the best team in any seven-game series, that’s just what it comes down to. It’s not going to be easy, and I think (Dallas) did a great job of reiterating that, that this isn’t going to be easy.

“But, you know, we’re prepared and we’re ready for what it takes.”

It’ll likely take more superhero-caliber play from Kawhi Leonard, who averaged 32.1 points per game against Dallas on shooting splits of 61.2% from the field, 42.5% from 3-point range and 89.8% from the free-throw line.

It’ll take the Clippers’ rotating cast of supporting characters to keep on keeping ready – as Terance Mann and Luke Kennard did in the first round, when, despite being nonfactors to start of the series, they were on the floor in Game 7, hitting crucial shots and making clutch plays.

“They both did play well when they got their opportunities … but every series is different,” Lue said Monday. “So we just gotta see, see how they’re trying to attack us, see the flow of the game, see of the flow of the series and go from there.”

It’ll take some special 3-point defense – by both teams.

Utah set an NBA record this season by making 16.7 3-pointers per game, hitting at least 10 shots from behind the arc in every game.

The Clippers made fewer 3-pointers (14.3 per game), but they made them more efficiently – shooting an NBA-best 41.1% from 3-point range (No. 4 all-time).

“We know we gotta do a better job this series than we did last series of taking away the 3-point shot, making those guys put the ball on the floor and then having our back line ready to help,” Lue said, with a nod to the fact that the Mavericks – who shot just 36.2% from deep in the regular season – were hitting 3s at a 40.7% percent rate against the Clippers entering Game 7.

And it will take the Clippers finding a way to win – or keep winning – on the road.

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