The Clippers really shouldn’t have won Game Three. Gordon Hayward exploded for 40 points on 13-21 shooting and Blake Griffin went down right before the half with a toe injury but the Clippers till managed the scrap their way to a victory behind a phenomenal performance by Chris Paul.
In the second half of the game, CP3 carried the Clippers on his back like Luke Skywalker carried Yoda through Dagobah, scorching the Jazz for 24 points on 8-15 shooting to finish with a final stat line of 34 points, 10 assists and 7 rebounds along with 2 steals and just two turnovers. Despite Doc Rivers trying his best to sabotage the Clippers from the inside by playing the corpse of Paul Pierce for 20 minutes, including 11 fourth quarter minutes, Paul made play after play to pull Los Angeles back into the game.
“I’m just always looking at the scoreboard and trying to manage the game,” Paul told the press after the game, “I was trying to pick my spots. That’s a good team over there and they stick to their principles.”
In the closing minutes of the third quarter, DeAndre Jordan set a pick on George Hill that caused Hill to bump into Chris Paul outside the arc. As soon as he felt the contact, Paul threw up a double-clutch one handed three-pointer that somehow went down and then drained the free throw to pull the Clippers within two points of the Jazz.
CP3 then led the Clippers on a 15-0 fourth quarter run with nine straight points of his own, highlighted by this masterful dismantling of the Utah defense, giving them a slight lead and then team didn’t look back.
In the final eight minutes of the game, Paul scored the same amount of points as the Jazz did (13) and the Clippers went on a 23-13 run the close out the win.
”He’s just good, number one. He trusts the actions that we run, number two. And he has an amazing will, he really does,” Doc said about Paul, “He’s stubborn in a very very positive way and I feel like his energy really rubbed off on the team”
After a Jazz franchise record 21 points in the first quarter, Hayward cooled off with just 19 points in the rest of the game on 6-13 shooting thanks to another solid defensive game from Luc Mbah a Moute. Luc had trouble following Hayward through screens early in the game because the team was lacking communication on the defensive end. No one was calling out screens for Luc and he was blindsided by many of them which led to open jumpers for Hayward. As the game progressed, the team began to vocalize more on defense and Mbah a Moute managed to slow down Hayward a little bit.
Mbah a Moute also had what could easily be his most impactful offensive game in a Clippers uniform with 15 points on 6-9 shooting which may not sound like a ton of production compared to CP3’s performance but many of Luc’s baskets came at important parts of the game. He hit some tough layups under the basket and even stepped out to hit a few mid-range jumpers which opened the floor a bit for the Clips.
DeAndre Jordan once again took advantage of Gobert’s absence with 17 points and 13 rebounds and even managed to hit some important free-throws in the second half of the game which was a refreshing sight to see. Raymond Felton played well in relief of Chris Paul, producing 9 points on 4-6 shooting in just 14 minutes while Mo Speights added 8 points of his own and made a smart inbound pass in the closing seconds of the game that sealed the deal for the Clippers.
Jamal struggled from the floor again but showed some signs of improvement. He shot 4-10 and contributed 9 points to the victory but once again failed to hit a three-pointer which is one of his biggest weapons. The Clippers were also unable to get JJ Redick going once again as he scored 8 points on five shots but managed to come into the game late and nail some important free throws to extend the Clipper’s lead.
Blake’s injury was without a doubt the lowlight of the game for the Clippers as he was playing well in the first half and was actually taking advantage of the mismatches he had in the post. Before leaving the game he had 11 points on 5-9 shooting and also had six rebounds. After barreling past Rodney Hood for a tough transition lay-in, he started limping noticeably and was visibly frustrated when Doc called a timeout. Watching Blake go straight to the locker room after smacking one of the sideline chairs in frustration instantly struck fear into Clippers fans, who have learned to assume the worst when one of our stars go down. Luckily, x-rays on Blake’s right toe were negative and he was diagnosed with a bruised toe that prevented him from returning from the game. In the post-game presser, Doc Rivers told the press that Blake would have to undergo some more tests before they really knew if his toe was unscathed.
Losing Griffin was a big hit for the team but Doc’s solution to filling the power forward spot was an even bigger hit. Rivers opted to play Paul Pierce at the four spot for the remainder of the game which hurt the team much more than it helped. Pierce was non-existent on offense, only taking one shot (which he missed) and otherwise standing around outside the arc on most of the Clipper’s other possessions, just watching Chris Paul bail the team out time and time again. On defense, Pierce looked even worse because for some reason Doc believes that Pierce can lockdown Joe Johnson. Johnson took Pierce in the post twice and scored both times on him, keeping the Jazz in the game late in the fourth quarter.
I’m not sure what Wesley Johnson did to Doc Rivers that has Doc so intent on not playing him but whatever it was, he needs to apologize. Getting Austin Rivers back for game four should help stop Joe Johnson somewhat, but we can’t roll out a line-up with Rivers or Pierce at the starting four spot if Blake is unable to play.
The Jazz hit a franchise playoff high 14 three pointers which obviously isn’t going to happen every night but Utah manages to find ways to keep these games close til the buzzer sounds. If the Clippers want to leave Utah with a 3-1 series lead they’re going to have to come out focused on defense this Sunday for game four. Los Angeles can’t afford to let Hayward dominate them the way he did in the first quarter and must play tight defense for the whole game. Many of the Jazz’s 14 threes came from missed assignments and simple miscommunications that the Clippers could have easily avoided.
“Me and Luc were on the bench talking about it. A lot of that stuff in the first quarter was missed assignments, missed communications. He (Hayward) was just playing well so we didn’t change too much up, just stayed aggressive on him,” said Paul.
With Blake being ruled out for the rest of the playoffs today due to the toe injury he suffered in Game Three, the focus of Game Four shifts to Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan. In the second half of the game, CP3 terrorized the Utah defense in the pick and roll because the paint was cleared out without Griffin. Because Derrick Favors isn’t 100 percent healthy, he was scared to leave DeAndre in the pick and roll which freed up CP3 for open midrange jumpers or easy lanes to the basket. When Favors did step up to try and help with Paul, the point God could throw an easy lob to DJ or pass to a cutter for the layup.
The Clippers aren’t capable of winning a title without Blake, period. I don’t even know if they’ll be able to win one game against the Warriors if they’re able to pull out the series victory over the Jazz. But one thing is certain, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan aren’t going to go down without a fight.