At halftime of this game, the Los Angeles Clippers were shooting a very solid 50 percent, but the Utah Jazz were shooting 66 percent. The Jazz also grabbed more than twice as many rebounds as the Clippers in the first half. Yet the Clippers trailed at the intermission by a very manageable seven points. I'm not frankly clear on how that happened, how it was possible to be within seven points of a team making two-thirds of their shots -- the Clippers ultra low turnover count certainly had something to do with it -- but at that point, I assumed the Clippers would win the game. There was no way the Jazz would continue to make the shots they were making, and when they cooled off the Clippers would be right there.
Through most of the third quarter it looked like I was just flat wrong. The Jazz continued to make jumper after jumper, and when former Clipper Randy Foye hit a catch and shoot three with two minutes left in the quarter, Utah matched their largest lead of the game at 14 points. But the Clippers had a nice mini run to close the quarter, and even though Chris Paul missed on the final possession, the lead was down to ten. Not ideal, but manageable.
The law of averages caught up to the Jazz in the fourth. With both benches in the game, the Clippers reserves clamped down on defense, the shots finally stopped falling for Utah, and they opened the quarter 1-6 with three turnovers. The strange thing about the Clippers' comeback in this game is that they wasted a number of opportunities along the way. Eric Bledsoe pushed off on a fast break negating a scoring opportunity. Jamal Crawford, the Clippers leading scorer and deadly from the corner this season, missed two uncontested corner threes and the team squandered two offensive rebounds on a single possession to come away empty. But the defense remained strong, and the lead continued to diminish if not disappear completely.
Chris Paul returned to the game with 7:19 remaining and the Clippers still down four. The first possession after he returned, the offense generated yet another wide open three for Crawford, and this time he drained it to cut the lead to one, at which point one had to feel awfully good about the Clippers' chances, given that the best player in the building was wearing red.
The Clippers got another stop but then lost the ball out of bounds on what appeared to be a bad call when Lamar Odom rebounded a ball but DeMarre Carroll knocked it away from him. After a sneaky Mo Williams bucket on the inbounds pass, the lead was back at three. But the next two Clipper scores were classic Paul. He blew by DeMarre Carroll for a layup and then one possession later again beat Carroll and found Griffin for an alley oop dunk when the help arrived. Griffin's dunk gave the Clippers a 91-90 lead with five minutes remaining, their first lead since 2-0.
It was destined to be a struggle over those last five minutes of course -- Utah wasn't going to go quietly in their own building where they'd won 42 of the previous 44 games against the Clippers. The next few minutes the Clippers got very, very lucky. Utah suddenly settled down and got Al Jefferson dunks on back to back possession, while the Clippers looked totally out of sorts. But a desperation jumper by Crawford at the shot clock buzzer and a step back jumper from Griffin as the clock was again expiring got the Clippers back within a point for the final two minutes, at which point Paul again took over.
He got to the rim again to regain the lead at 97-96 and then after a Mo Williams three pointer and two free throws out of three by Chauncey Billups after he was fouled by Williams while shooting a three, Paul made yet another driving layup to invoke Lawler's Law at 101-99 with 40 seconds remaining.
The Clippers still needed one big stop though, which they got courtesy of DeAndre Jordan. The Clippers did a good job of pressuring the ball on the perimeter, but unfortunately that left Al Jefferson alone just below the foul line. The deadly Jefferson appeared to have an open 10 footer, ideal for his favorite little one handed jumper, but Jordan reacted in a flash to get a clean block on the shot, and Billups grabbed the loose ball. Matt Barnes hit two free throws to stretch the lead to four points with 17 seconds to go. It got more interesting than it should have over those final 17 seconds, but the Clippers held in for their second straight win in Utah. The last time the Clippers won back to back games in Utah they were the San Diego Clippers, John Stockton was a freshman at Gonzaga and Karl Malone was in high school somewhere in Louisiana.
The Clippers have a lot of heroes in this game. Blake Griffin, as if perhaps he had read my column on SBNation.com, looked like his old attacking self and recorded his first 30 point game of the season on 14-20 shooting. He also had 11 rebounds and zero turnovers.
Paul was nothing short of magnificent in the fourth quarter -- he had six points and two assists in the final seven minutes, and frankly he made it look easy. In a hard fought game, the ability to get layups is huge, partly because it's so demoralizing for the opponent. (The Jazz have a huge problem against the Clippers in that they don't have anyone who can guard Paul. Mo Williams and Foye were having great games and needed to be on the floor, but neither is a good enough defender to contend with CP3. Jazz Coach Ty Corbin chose to try the length of Carroll on him but to no avail.)
Jordan did not have his best game, but he came up huge on his game preserving block. It was redemption of sorts for Jordan who struggled to contain the very clever Jefferson all night long. Crawford struggled from the field but came through with 11 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter and Billups drew a crucial shooting foul on a three point attempt in the fourth quarter as well (as Mo complained vociferously that Chauncey had flopped -- the replay on Prime Ticket was really not good enough to tell what happened).
In the end it's a huge win for the Clippers. I went through their December schedule earlier, and this is one of the toughest games they have this month. Getting a win in this one sets the stage for the team to really get rolling and win a lot of games in December. It's a rare and happy occasion to win in Utah -- stealing the win makes it that much better.
For the Jazz perspective visit SLC Dunk.