What a game. The box score is here for anyone who wants to see it.
The Clippers struggles in Utah over the last two decades are well documented. The tandems of John Stockton and Karl Malone, Derron Williams and Carlos Boozer are long gone, but the Jazz still always manage to put out a competitive team on the floor. The last time the Clips came into Energy Solutions Arena, they were without Chris Paul and Mo WIliams, in the 2nd of back to back to back games on the road. The result was an embarassing blowout loss. Tonight, the Clippers unquestioned leader was back along with Mo, and it was clear from the outset that the Lob Angeles Clippers was on a mission to put an end to the Jazz domination at home.
Give a lot of credit to Utah in this one. Those boys came to play, and never gave up for a second. The Clippers opened the game with an alley-oop from Paul to Griffin, and followed that up with a series of big time finishes at the rim. But the Jazz continuously had an answer, looking to get out and run from the outset, putting a great deal of pressure on the Clippers. While Paul Millsap struggled tonight, Al Jefferson was terrific, torching the Clipper bigs with 18 points on 9/11 shooting in the first half. Throughout the entire game, the Jazz looked to push, allowing them to get transition points and trips to the free throw line. In addition, getting the ball across half court allowed them to initiate their offense early in the shot clock, assuring quality possession after quality possession. A lot of credit is owed to Coach Tyrone Corbin. He has done an excellent job of getting his team to execute what looks a whole lot like Jerry Sloan's old offense, without a great passing point guard. We saw some really nifty sets tonight, with Utah running diversionary double cuts pulling in the entire Clipper defense, followed by a third cut leading to an easy layup. They also executed great simple back cuts for easy points as well. Really great stuff, and maximum effort for 48 minutes as well.
Caron Butler was not available for the game tonight, with reports of some stiffness in his back. As a result, Ryan Gomes got off the bench tonight, where he was once again completely ineffective. His inability to make the corner three (which Butler has been knocking down at a great rate this season) really hurts the Clippers offense. As a result, we saw the three guard lineup even more tonight than usual. Its actually an interesting look, and when Paul and Griffin are on the floor it looks pretty good for the most part. The problem is when you have three point guards out there with Reggie Evans and Deandre Jordan. Jordan and Evans inability to score from the block makes it very tough to get anything but a jump shot, and even that doesn't come easy, as the defense is able to extend more comfortably, and can hedge much more on screens. And give the Jazz defense credit. In particular, I thought Gordon Hayward did an excellent job tonight, using his length to really bother our guards. Chauncey Billups in particular had a really rough time getting quality looks at the basket. On the other end, Hayward kept putting pressure on the Clippers, looking to run and try and get layups whenever he could. He only ended up with 12 points, but he was a much bigger factor than the box sore would indicate tonight.
After relying heavily on the three point shot the last two games, the Clippers were only 5/22 from behind the arc tonight. It didnt matter. It's becoming increasingly obvious that these Clippers are coming together, starting to gel as a unit. The pick N roll is really starting to develop as a weapon in the half court, and Paul has figured out where to get it to his bigs and how to get his own points out of those sets as well. He is so good off the pick with his ability to get to the rim, make the right pass, or step back/pull up jumper, that the Clippers always have a chance to get a quality look when he is on the floor. This was the best I have seen the Clippers play as a half court offense (which is not to say they didn't have some frustrating possessions where they settled for jumpers or shots late in the shot clock,). I think a healthy Caron Butler may have allowed the Clippers to separate in this game. But that wouldn't be the case tonight.
The Clippers were unable to get any distance from the Jazz, and found themselves in a dog fight coming down the stretch. They made some real big plays in the fourth quarter. With the ball out of bounds behind the Clippers basket, the Clippers only had .06 left on the shot clock. Mo WIlliams managed to get a shot up, followed by a big offensive rebound by CP3. He would get fouled and convert 1 out of 2 from the stripe. On the ensuing possession, an offensive rebound by Blake Griffin led to a big 3 by Chris Paul, giving the Clippers a lead when the Jazz were threatening to take the momentum in the game. Blake Griffin had two other big plays in this game, drawing an offensive foul on Millsap (when Griffin himself had 5), and taking the ball to the rim and finishing the "and 1" with the Jazz looking to foul intentionally. Heads up play and a great finish.
Down the stretch, it sure is nice to have some guys who can make free throws. The Clippers would make 7 in a row to end the game, icing it amid some big shots by the Jazz which in years past might have kept the home winning streak alive. The game ended with a big rebound by Reggie Evans, followed by his team mates swarming him on the floor, then huddling up together. We knew the Clippers had the talent to be a good team. Now it looks like they are a TEAM in every sense of the word, enjoying playing these games every night as much as we enjoy watching.
It's gonna be a fun season.
Only one note tonight.
Solomon Jones does not look like an NBA player to me. I like his length, but he does nothing with it, and is constantly getting beat at the rim on defense, and he's unable to finish on offense. I miss Ike Diogu. Never thought I'd say that.