Jazz chase momentum as Clippers visit minus Kawhi Leonard

NBA

Kawhi Leonard could be done for the series and is out for Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals with a right knee injury.

That poses significant challenges for the Los Angeles Clippers, and could be a convincing edge for the Utah Jazz with momentum up for grabs in a pivotal Game 5 on Wednesday night.

Rudy Gobert believes Utah’s problems, which led to two straight blowout losses to the Clippers in Los Angeles, center around the offense.

“When we take tough shots, it’s hard to get back and set our defense,” Gobert said. “We commit fouls, we give up layups, we give up 3s. It’s a cycle — when we play the right way offensively, we play better defensively.”

Donovan Mitchell acknowledges the offensive struggles, but also pointed at Utah’s defensive woes.

“They were just at a different level, but we couldn’t buy a bucket,” he said. “And we just didn’t guard. We’ve got to keep guarding.”

In all likelihood, the Jazz will need to improve on both sides of the court if they hope to snap a two-game skid and regain an advantage in a series tied 2-2 heading into Game 5 on Wednesday night in Salt Lake City.

The Clippers’ stars awakened the past two games — Leonard and Paul George each scored at least 30 points in Games 3 and 4 victories — while the suffocating defense and smoking offense that helped the Jazz jump out to a 2-0 series start looked rather pedestrian at Staples Center.

“Myself and Kawhi got full trust in each other,” George said. “It’s opportunities for us to score when we get switches, but then there’s opportunities to allow our teammates to be aggressive and make plays for them when we can attack our mismatches. I think it’s just a healthy mix.”

They were very healthy on Monday, with George and Leonard each scoring 31 points in a 118-104 win.

George faces the possibility of needing another wing man to emerge on Wednesday night at Utah.

“These guys understand that we need them to be the head of the snake and be super aggressive,” Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr. said. ” Those guys are our leaders. We go as they go and they understand that. Guys have just been picking up the slack behind them.”

The Jazz, meanwhile, continue to hope for the series debut of All-Star point guard Mike Conley and for the return of their all-around stellar play, which helped them earn the No. 1 seed for the playoffs. Coming home to 18,300 exuberant fans should help.

Aside from the 0-for-21 stretch the Jazz endured in their Game 1 come-from-behind win, things couldn’t get much worse than they did in the first half Monday. The Clippers used a 10-0 run after Utah scored the first basket and increased that lead to 51-22 before Utah snapped out of its funk and made the game somewhat more competitive.

“We gotta stay connected, stay together,” Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic said. “They won two games at home. Now we have to protect our home court.”

Clippers coach Tyronn Lue wants more of what his players brought, especially defensively, when they return to Utah. L.A.’s zone defense and smaller lineups have been particularly effective.

“I thought it was our defense where we set the tone,” Lue said of the Game 4 win. “We were able to get out in transition.”

–Field Level Media

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