When is a blowout not a blowout? When, despite your superior efforts, your opponent kills you from the three-point arc and the free-throw line, but you get the win anyway.
In what felt like a 20-point rout that was never more than a few possessions from happening, the Clippers shrugged off the hot-shooting Utah Jazz for a crucial 99-91 win, evening the first round series at one victory apiece.
With All-Universe defender Rudy Gobert out with that hyperextended knee, the Clippers took ownership of the paint, changing the locks and hanging their own pictures. The Clippers increased their inside scoring by 50% over Game 1, canning 60 of their 99 points from up-close. The inside attack was the straw stirring the drink watered down by a 30% performance from deep. They got no help from the officials, either, earning just 8 free throws.
It was from behind those two lines where Utah made hay, converting 40% from deep on 25 tries and cutting into the Clippers’ lead with a 14-attempt advantage at the free throw line. In the interest of sidestepping the Clipper fan stereotype, I’ll simply label this game’s officiating as “interesting”. As in, “Hmm, it’s interesting how the referees are choosing to call blocking/charging tonight.” Although, in fairness to the refs, the Clippers’ path to the basket was so unfettered that the Jazz were hardly ever in position to actually give a foul.
Chronologically, this game wasn’t that interesting. The Clippers took an early 11-3 lead on 5-for-5 shooting, and basically kept the Jazz at arm’s length throughout. So, let’s go player-by-player:
DeAndre Jordan was, if not the game’s MVP, certainly the first half’s. Big #6 dominated with the bigger Gobert sidelined, running up a 10-and-5 first quarter line before finishing with 18 and 14. Most of the Utah runs came with DeAndre on the bench, a place he spent more time than he would have liked given some moderate foul trouble. He picked up his fourth foul late in the third quarter and a sixth with 52 seconds left in the game, fortunately only after the Clippers had given themselves a proper cushion.
Blake Griffin was the Clippers’ most consistent offensive threat, continuing his reemergence as PLAYOFF BLAKE (NOW WITH THREE-POINT RANGE). Blake led all players with 24 points, and while he still spun his way down the lane like a massive ballerino, he kept the turnovers to a literal minimum: zero. He blitzed the paint over and over, and may have put the game in the fridge with a corner three at around 90 ticks remaining.
Chris Paul had his wristband torn off on a non-foul, worked through his own first-half foul trouble (he earned 3 whistles on 1 1⁄2 fouls), and gave us another wonderfully demonstrative GIF when the official wouldn’t give him the ball quickly enough for an uptempo inbound. Oh, and he added 21 points and 10 assists, getting to his obligatory spot at the elbow on demand against a conservative Utah big-man defense that fears forays outside the paint. He made 9 of his 15 field goal attempts, 3 of 4 threes, snatched 3 steals, BLOCKED A SHOT, and seemed to conjure a basket whenever his team most needed one.
Luc Mbah a Moute scored 4 points on two nick-of-time cuts, and that tells about 1/10th of his game story. Matched up almost minute-for-minute against All-Star Gordon Hayward, the long-armed prince hassled his mark into a 5-for-15 shooting night, although Hayward managed a team-high 20 points on the back of 3 threes and 7 free throws. Mbah a Moute grabbed 8 rebounds, 3 on the offensive end, and contributed 38 of the best minutes the Clippers have received from a small forward in their current era. The man will be a mainstay throughout this series.
Joe Johnson found fewer matchups against diminutive defenders like Ray Felton, tallying just 13 points on 15 shots. It turns out that the fleet-footed, 6’10”, 250 lb. man/machine that is Blake Griffin is a pretty good foil for the stout Iso-Joe.
Paul Pierce made an appearance. Actually, he made two appearances, getting 9 minutes of floor time across the two halves. And he was OK! In what Clippers PR announced was his 165th playoff appearance, one more than Larry Bird and good for 29th all-time, the old Truth scored 6 points and handed out 2 assists. In what may be a more critical indictment of Utah’s defensive capabilities sans Gobert than any other fact, Pierce scored not once but TWICE on driving layups.
Joe Ingles continued to torture his former employer and fans, using nothing but long arms and savvy like an Aussie MacGuyver to hold JJ Redick (4 PTS, 2-7 FG, 0-2 3PT) to another subpar night. . . Jamal Crawford closed out the game in JJ’s place, but despite the handful of his trademark spectacular shots, he was a detriment at both ends. . . Ray Felton finally made a three. . . Derrick Favors is clearly not 100%, but he’s out there working anyway. The Jazz defense is beyond hopeless without him. (See: Paul Pierce layups.)
The Clippers and Jazz get two more nights off before getting back to it in Salt Lake City on Friday night.