LOS ANGELES – The LA Clippers had Kawhi Leonard and Paul George back on Friday, and the timing couldn’t have been better.
The aspiring Utah Jazz, winner of 20 of their last 21 games, including an 18-point win over the Clippers on Wednesday, was back at the Staples Center for a second straight game. And the Clippers wanted to show where they stand against the top team in the west.
Leonard scored 29 points and scored two big offensive rebounds in the last minute to help the Clippers stop the Jazz (116-112) and win Utah’s nine-game winning streak.
“They are the best team in the NBA in terms of record right now,” said Clippers coach Ty Lue. “We knew they won 20 out of 21 tonight. We got our boys back and we wanted to win this game.”
The Clippers (22-9) got their two stars back on the pitch after George missed the last seven games with a swollen right toe and Leonard missed the previous three for a bruise to his lower left leg. The starting line-up for the Clippers was complete again. Striker Nicolas Batum also returned after missing the last two games due to a concussion.
“I’m just glad that I was able to get out today and play,” said Leonard, who wore a sleeve on his left lower leg. “We could be healthy and have our top five out there and that’s what it’s about. We want to get better. We haven’t had a chance to really play with a full, healthy squad in the last two weeks.” So hopefully we can have some blessings and stay healthy to finish up to the All-Star [break] has started.”
The Jazz (24-6) also had security guard Mike Conley (right achilles tendon) back on line for this showdown between two of the best teams in the West. Conley scored 16 points, but it was Donovan Mitchell who almost kept the jazz series alive. Mitchell scored 35 points, 29 came in the second half. The security guard scored 12 points in the 1:23 final as he helped Utah cut a late 13-point deficit to two by 13 seconds.
Jazz Center Rudy Gobert said the game “felt like a playoff game – the intensity, the hard hits they made all night”.
For Utah, this was a rare close game. During their 20-1 stretch, the Jazz had only logged seven minutes in clutch time when the score was within five points in the last five minutes. That’s the least in the NBA during that period.
“There are so many different things that we’ve seen on this track,” said Mitchell. “We are not here to be satisfied with what is happening today and tomorrow. We are preparing for the long haul – the second half of the season and the playoffs. We have to continue to be that team and not just that.” this team in the first half of the season. “
Like Jazz, who had a 3-1 lead over the Denver Nuggets in the first round of last season’s playoffs, the Clippers are striving to be better than the previous postseason. They blew a 3-1 lead over the Nuggets in the second round.
The Clippers need a healthy Leonard and George to advance this season. George said he played with a sore toe and made it to a back-to-back game against Brooklyn and Cleveland with a day off between games. George then developed a swelling and had to be shut down until the swelling and pain subsided.
“We played Brooklyn and then Cleveland, two tough games where I had to dig those toes and push them, plant them and play them off,” said George, who had 15 points, six rebounds and five assists in 27 minutes. “Just back to back got me overboard and I couldn’t recover. I needed a break because it was swollen. I was just trying to keep it going for the team and it crept on me. “
“I feel good,” added George about how his toe felt out of the game. “I’m just getting going again.”
The same goes for the Clippers, who were happy that their stars were healthy again against the glowing jazz.
“We’re basketball fans at the end of the day and of course you can see the noise that is made throughout the season,” said Patrick Beverley, the clippers’ guardian, of the 20-1 stretch of jazz. “We actually wanted the one we gave up. Towards the end we ran out of gas [on Wednesday]. You have to do Utah honor. They have a damn good system, Hella players, the coaches.
“It was a tough game and that’s the kind of game you want in the NBA and we’re lucky enough to get a win for sure.”