So let’s see what happens as this Western Conference semifinal series against the Utah Jazz continues.
Some of the flaws were easy to spot Thursday night, in a 117-111 decision that gave the top-seeded Jazz the 2-0 lead in this best-of-seven. Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Patrick Beverley, DeMarcus Cousins … just about everybody but Steve Ballmer and Chuck the Condor (who didn’t make the trip) had a hand in trying to guard Utah star Donovan Mitchell in the first half, when he had 27 of his 37 points.
The Clippers, who started a small lineup in Game 1, started Ivica Zubac on Thursday night and fell behind 10-2 in less than two minutes, eight of those points by Mitchell. They trailed by 21 early in the third quarter. But Tyronn Lue’s tinkering also produced a zone defense that befuddled Utah for a while in the second half, leading to a 46-23 run over a 14-1/2 minute span and a 101-99 lead on a Reggie Jackson 3-pointer with 6:37 left.
This might be the Clippers’ biggest problem: That lead lasted all of 11 seconds. Mitchell might not necessarily have been The Man in the fourth quarter, but Rudy Gobert (13 points and 20 rebounds) made key plays and Bojan Bogdanovic and Joe Ingles supplied the daggers down the stretch with key 3-pointers.
Twice in two games, the Clippers’ defense has put the clamps on Utah for long stretches. Both times the Jazz recovered. Add the fact that Utah point guard Mike Conley has yet to play in this series because of what was described as a “mild” hamstring strain suffered in the Memphis series, placing an additional burden on Mitchell and Ingles, and you start to wonder if maybe the Clippers have already blown their best opportunity to put this series in a hammerlock.
“We got stagnant. They slowed us up. And credit to Ty Lue and the staff for doing that,” Mitchell said afterward. “But we haven’t played against zone in a long time, (to) find ways to get into the paint and do what we have been doing. And then on top of that, we wasn’t getting any stops. … The looks they were getting and the way they were getting their buckets, I feel like we can control that a little better than we did, in that third quarter especially.”
Bogdanovic also supplied some stout defense on Leonard, who finished with a quiet 21 points and just two in the fourth quarter. There are going to be plenty of adjustments and strategic quirks by both teams throughout the series, but the deciding factor probably will be whether the stars play like stars.
“As good as they are playing, as good as this matchup is, as tough as this matchup is, we still feel like there’s moments throughout this game, this series, that we’re making plays that are self-inflicted,” George said. “Again, it’s a lot of uphill, but we’re optimistic that we can get this under control.”
George has obviously become the favorite target of Utah’s fans, who booed him vigorously during introductions and serenaded him with chants of “Pandemic P” and “Over-rated” throughout the evening. At one point he was 4 for 13 from the field but finished 8 for 18 from the field and 9 for 9 from the foul line for 27 points, second on the Clippers to Jackson’s 29 on 4-for-8 3-point shooting.
On the ESPN broadcast Thursday night, analyst Doris Burke made a reference to the Clippers’ “casualness” after back-to-back turnovers by Jackson and George on sloppy passes. That might be the attribute that drives those who watch them play the most crazy. It’s not that they’re not trying, because they obviously are. But sometimes they have that too cool for school look to them, and George tends to be the most noticeable in that regard.
Maybe they need more Patrick Beverley more frequently. Maybe they need more Rajon Rondo, who inexplicably was a DNP-Coach’s decision on Thursday night, as Lue trimmed his rotation to nine (aside from 1:07 for Terance Mann in the fourth quarter).
Or maybe this series is just beginning to get good and we don’t realize it yet. Keep in mind that the Clippers aren’t the only club whose playoff experience in the bubble last year ended with a 3-1 blown lead against Denver. Utah had it happen in the previous round.
But the Jazz didn’t face championship expectations then the way the Clippers did, and while they might have had to answer for their blown lead, those questions didn’t extend much beyond the borders of Salt Lake City. There are expectations now, after the Jazz finished the compacted 72-game regular season with the game’s best record and celebrated the awards for Defensive Player of the Year (Gobert for the third time) and Sixth Man of the Year (former Laker Jordan Clarkson).
“There’s going to be adversity,” Mitchell said. “We’re not always going to blow them out, blow teams out. It’s the playoffs … for us, it’s like, ‘Okay, they made a run, but how do we counter that?’
“I think we understand how to handle these things, and I think that was what you saw (Thursday) night. And I think definitely the experience level in the bubble helped. We understood, ‘Okay, this is what we’re doing,’ having flashbacks of certain instances, and we kind of relate and having the same core group, we know exactly how these things work.”
History can be a very good teacher. We’ll soon see how much and how well the Clippers have learned.
SANDY, Utah (AP) — The United States finished a grueling stretch of four games in 11 days over 5,400 miles that resulted in three wins, including the CONCACAF Nations League trophy. Twenty-four players saw action, and eight scored.
Prep time for the Europe-based players is over. Next up is the start of World Cup qualifying in September.
“The depth of this team will really come in handy,” Brenden Aaronson said after scoring in the eighth minute Wednesday night to start a 4-0 exhibition rout of Costa Rica. “I think it’s it’s going really well so far. And I think we showed that today.”
Daryl Dike and Reggie Cannon added their first international goals and Gio Reyna converted a penalty kick in the 77th, three minutes after entering.
U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter changed nine starters from the lineup he used to beat Mexico 3-2 in extra time on Sunday to win the first CONCACAF Nations League.
Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Josh Sargent didn’t play at all.
Defender Mark McKenzie, the target of racial abuse on the Internet after a poor first half Sunday, was the only player to start for the fourth straight game and had a stronger effort.
“I came of out of the Mexico game being extremely proud of Mark and the way he handled himself,” Berhalter said. “He didn’t need to play another minute today and I still would have been proud of him.”
This schedule was designed to mimic pandemic-delated World Cup qualifying, where the U.S. opens with three matches from Sept. 2-8, a window FIFA designed for two.
“What I realized is that it’s going to take a group to get this done. It’s not going to take 11 starters,” Berhalter said. “We think we have a young, talented group. And to gain that CONCACAF experience was massive. And when we turn around and we go into World Cup qualifying, we’ll have a good idea of what that’s going to be like and what the three-game rhythm’s going to be like.”
Reyna was the only multiple goal scorer over the four games, which began with a 2-1 friendly loss at Switzerland on May 30 and was followed by last Thursday’s 1-0 win over Honduras in the Nations League semifinal. Pulisic, McKennie, Jordan Siebatcheu and Sebastian Lletget also scored.
“I think there’s guys that will be able to go three games and 90 minutes, but it’s not going to be many, especially given the way we want to play and the way we want to press,” Berhalter said.
Europe-based players will go on brief vacations and then skip next month’s CONCACAF Gold Cup to report for preseason ahead of 2021-22 club seasons.
The 20th-ranked U.S. improved 11-1-1 in its last 13 matches and won its 10th consecutive game against a regional opponent since a 2019 Nations League loss to Canada, matching the American high set in 2013. The U.S. beat its top three regional rivals within a week.
Ethan Horvath was rarely tested and got the shutout on his 26th birthday after taking over when Zack Steffen sustained a bone bruise in his left knee during the second half on Sunday.
The 50th-ranked Ticos are winless in 11 games since 2019, with six losses and five draws that included a pair of penalty-kicks defeats.
The U.S. team, wearing rainbow numbers on white jerseys for LGBTQ Pride month, dominated and went ahead after Lletget passed to Antonee Robinson on the left flank, and he crossed for Dike. Francisco Calvo knocked the ball away, but it bounced into the path of Aaronson, whose right-footed shot from 8 yards beat goalkeeper Leonel Moreira for his third goal in seven international appearances.
Dike, six days past his 21st birthday and making his third international appearance, scored in the 42nd minute. McKenzie fed a through pass from just short of the midfield stripe, and Dike ran onto the ball and scored from 14 yards.
A crowd of 19,007 was unusual for Dike, who has played most of his pro career in empty stadiums or in front of limited crowds.
“It was incredible to have fans,” Dike said. “It’s something that you’ve always kind of looked forward to as a young kid to be able to play in front of thousands and thousands of fans.”
Cannon picked up an errant sideways clearance attempt by Yeltsin Tejeda in the 52nd minute, dribbled in, cut around Joseph Mora and scored with a left-footed shot from 14 yards.
Reyna was awarded the penalty when he was knocked over by Keysher Fuller. The 18-year-old, a son of former U.S. captain Claudio Reyna, became the youngest American to convert a penalty kick with his fourth international goal.
Siebatcheu entered in the 74th minute and appeared to hurt his right knee in an aerial challenge, forcing the U.S. to finish a man short.
Lorenzo Antonio Parra of Corona admitted one count each of shooting at an occupied vehicle, felony driving under the influence and being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.
The Riverside County District Attorney’s Office dropped three related charges in exchange for Parra’s admissions under the plea agreement.
Superior Court Judge O.G. Magno accepted the plea during a status hearing at the Riverside Hall of Justice, imposing the sentence stipulated by the prosecution and defense.
According to the California Highway Patrol, a man driving a Chevrolet Silverado going west on the Riverside Freeway, near Adams Street in Riverside, came under fire about 10:40 p.m. on May 22.
CHP Officer Juan Quintero said the victim, whose name was not disclosed, exited the freeway on McKinley Avenue in Corona and called 911, describing the vehicle from which the shots originated as a burgundy Honda Accord, occupied by two people.
“The victim related that he observed the muzzle flash and heard the gunshots but did not know where the bullets struck his vehicle and was not able to obtain a license plate” number, Quintero said.
Neither the driver or his passenger was injured.
Quintero said patrol units canvassed the freeway and surrounding streets, locating Parra’s sedan on the westbound Riverside Freeway at Maple Street in Corona nearly two hours later.
Because Parra’s car matched the description given by the victim, it was stopped as it exited the freeway onto Green River Road, according to Quintero.
After officers confirmed that Parra was driving on a suspended license, he was detained, along with his companion.
“A thorough search of the suspect vehicle resulted in locating a loaded Ruger 9mm handgun, loose ammunition and one used shell casing,” Quintero said.
Parra was taken into custody without a struggle, and his passenger was released after questioning.
Investigators determined the shooting was not connected to the rash of vandalism attacks targeting vehicles traveling the Riverside Freeway between Anaheim and Riverside from mid-April to late May, resulting in windows being blown out by projectiles, identified as BBs and pellets.
Another convicted felon, 34-year-old Jesse Leal Rodriguez of Anaheim, was arrested and charged in connection with at least one of the attacks, though authorities believe he’s responsible for more.
According to court records, Parra has prior convictions for driving under the influence, felony evading and driving on a suspended license.