Kawhi Leonard has the biggest hands in the game and somehow his fingerprints are missing in this series and in most of the playoffs.
Paul George has every reason to start a playoff buy-out tour, given what happened to him last year ̵
The Clippers are 0-2 behind the jazz in the second round, just as they were before with the Mavericks, and much of that is due to another 0-2: Their stars, for the second consecutive series, are behind the other star from the other team.
Donovan Mitchell follows Luka Doncic to be a problem for the Clippers, crushing them in Game 1 for Jazz and then returned Thursday with a performance almost as stellar in Utah’s 117-11 victory. This in itself is somewhat understandable. In his short time in the NBA, Mitchell has established himself as a player built for spring and summer, when the lights are on and his team longs for a savior.
The same goes for Doncic; his style of play, competitive nature and toughness lend themselves to another level of basketball, which motivates him to rise right along with the stakes at this time of year.
But shouldn’t the Clippers get the same blows to the chest from Leonard and George, who should be making the difference required to take big pictures in tense moments, not like Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris and … Patrick Beverly?
Kawhi and PG weren’t terrible Thursday; they just weren’t great. Nor was Clipper the best player on the floor. Nor was there what could be described as an o-wow moment. None of the factors were in the final minutes and certainly not the result, a defeat that put the Clippers in another hole to start the series.
Leonard was defiantly defended by Bojan Bogdanovic, who stripped him once at a revealing stop at the end of the fourth and mostly kept quiet about the former two-time MVP of the MVP when it mattered. The numbers will say 21 points for Leonard, but no one can remember anyone who shouted loudly. In addition, it had three revolutions and at times seemed out of sync.
For a player who manages the load during this compressed season, Kawhi plays with only one day off between the May 28 games. Is it fair to ask if this “blizzard” from the schedule catches up with him?
At least he had matches of 45 and 41 points in the previous round. George, on the other hand, is still waiting for a signature and stretching game. You can argue that Leonard is forced to carry more than his share of a load that is designed to be handled equally between the two.
Instead, George had his second straight shooting game, and for the third straight playoff, he’s struggling especially to find a sequence of depth, connecting just 32 percent this season.
Again: As a duo, Kawhi and George did not crate; they just didn’t match the intensity, impact and pop like Doncic in the first round or Mitchell so far in the second round.
Mitchell at one point outscored the Clipper duo 72-66 in the first six quarters of this series, and for the two games combined there are only nine points less. But the numbers don’t tell the whole story; Mitchell makes plays that irritate teammates, turn up the volume inside the home arena and kill the wind from the other team.
Mitchell was the league’s most prolific goal scorer in the last two postseason combined, and more remarkably finished strong with an inflamed ankle in Game 2. When he didn’t punish the Clippers, his supporting squad always seemed to respond in time to a 3-point score when LA enough energy to tighten the result.
That’s what the Premier should do in the playoffs, but in those Clippers playoffs, with the exception of a couple of solid Kawhi efforts, this performer has been on the other team in nine games so far.
The spotlight of suspicion will only become more intense for George in the rest of this series. If you remember, the flesh of his problems in the playoffs can be traced to a three-year match with Utah, when he and Oklahoma City lost in six games to the same jazz franchise. The following year came Damian Lillard’s epic winning basket over George along with his mocking farewell wave. Then last season, when George played poorly in the playoffs and came out empty in a 7th game against the Nuggets, the noise from the audience at him was deafening.
But basketball is sometimes funny. Stories and perceptions and reputations can turn around suddenly if someone takes their hammer. What Kauhi and George have is, after all, the luxury of time. There is another game that is about to create a completely different conversation.
These two couldn’t stop the Clippers from falling behind again with 0-2. To pull even, they will have to do with jazz what Mitchell does with the clippers. It is certainly possible at this point, given the sudden sensitivity of the situation in which they find themselves, do they have another choice?
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Sean Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can send him an email here, find his archive here and follow him Twitter.
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