When the Utah Jazz lost DPOY contender Rudy Gobert just 11 seconds into the first game of the Jazz-Clippers series, they were either going to fall apart and get slaughtered or rally behind their injured teammate and grind out a win. The Clippers looked like a team that felt like they could just coast to a victory after watching their opponent’s arguably most important player go down so early in the game and lazily allowed the Jazz to steal a game one victory on the road.
The entire team played without energy or execution for the entire game and didn’t deserve to have the game end as closely as it did. The Jazz simply out-hustled and played with more heart than the Clippers on both ends of the court without their defensive leader. The final sequence of the game, Chris Paul hitting a tough lay-up to tie the game and then Joe Johnson picking apart Jamal Crawford in isolation for the game-winner was a summary of the entire game for the Clippers.
Griffin was a monster in the first half with 20 points on 7-13 shooting but then went 2-8 for six points in the second half in addition to coughing up six of the teams fifteen turnovers. Chris Paul played a game opposite to Griffins, coming alive in the fourth quarter to keep the Clippers in the game after an average first three quarters. After dishing out ten assists in the first half, CP3 mustered just one in the second half but did end up scoring the majority of his 25 points in the latter part of the game. J.J. Redick was eaten alive by former Clipper Joe Ingles, who held Redick to just seven points on six shots and four turnovers. Jamal Crawford looked like he was going to make a solid contribution in the beginning of the game but quickly faded, ending the night shooting 4-12 and getting schooled by ISO Joe on the last play of the game.
People are going to overreact to this game. We’re going to hear a bunch of talk about how the Clippers are still the Clippers, that the team is incapable of winning in the playoffs, that Chris Paul is a choker. Based on the way that Los Angeles performed in game one, those comments aren’t that far off but the Clippers that we saw last night were a shell of the team that ended the season on a seven-game win streak. They looked uninterested in the game, like they felt that the victory was guaranteed with Gobert sidelined and just seemed mentally checked out throughout the game. The offense was stagnant for the majority of the game and the defense was all-over-the-place in the worst way possible.
As the game progressed the Clips started to work their way out of the funk but fluky plays, like this George Hill third quarter three-pointer, got into the teams head, frustrating and disheartening them.
That was beautiful, George Hill. pic.twitter.com/X2nnwUquA7
— SLAM Magazine (@SLAMonline) April 16, 2017
Doc Rivers told the press that the team struggled with the Jazz’s small-ball lineups which sounds silly since most of the league has evolved to small-ball play, but it does make some sense. The Clippers were prepared for a team that heavily relied on the play of Rudy Gobert both offensively and defensively but ended up going against smaller lineups that the Jazz had barely used during the regular season. Gobert’s MRI revealed a hyperextension and a bone bruise in that left knee which could easily keep him sidelined for the rest of the first round. This being said, the Clippers are going to see the same lineups in the next game and should be better prepared both offensively and defensively.
If the Clippers want to bounce back in the next game they are going to have to switch up a few things on both ends of the court. On offensive, Chris Paul is going to have to start the game aggressive on the offensive end instead of waiting til the second half to start scoring. CP3 needs to find that balance between setting up his teammates for shots and putting in some points himself instead of just focusing on one or the other. The team is going to need to set better screens and execute their sets for J.J. Redick to try and get him some open looks in the half-court which subsequently will lead to better looks for the entire team. Griffin is going to have to play like he did in the first half of the game for the entire game and provide a constant scoring option down the stretch for the team.
On defense, Los Angeles is going to need to stop switching defenders on every single screen. Paul, Mbah a Moute, Griffin and Jordan are all good enough defenders to switch onto the ball handler but when they do switch, they leave the lesser defenders of the Clippers out to dry. The Jazz used the Clipper’s switching to their advantage, switching Crawford and Redick onto larger players such as Gordon Heyward and Joe Johnson, like on the last play of the game.
Yes, the Clippers played a pathetic first game of the series and yes, this was a game that they should have easily been able to win with Gobert out but the series isn’t just one game. Joe Johnson is still a good player but he only scored more than 20 points just three times during the regular season and will likely come back down to Earth in game two with a more grounded performance. Derek Favors was very solid for the Jazz off the bench with 15 points and 6 rebounds but was limping and gassed by the end of the game, forced to play over 30 minutes after just playing 17 a game in last three regular season games since he’s coming off a knee injury of his own. The Clippers are going to be without Austin Rivers for game two as he continues to rehab his hamstring but when he eventually returns he might be able to bring the consistency back to the bench that he brought the whole season.
Stealing game one is a huge victory for Utah, but losing in such drastic fashion combined with their poor overall performance should wake the Clippers up for game two on Tuesday night. It isn’t time to push the panic button yet for the Clips but falling behind 0-2 would put them in a very precarious situation that they should hopefully be able to avoid.