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Preseason Game #3, Clippers 94, Jazz 96

Execution in close games will be crucial for both teams heading into the regular season

Utah Jazz v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

It was a game all about scoring runs. And each team had their fair share of carelessness down the stretch. But in the end, the Jazz managed to hang on and beat an experienced Clippers team who still needs to work on offensive execution in close games.

Out of the gate, the Jazz offense looked vastly different than it has in recent years; even though it was only a preseason game, they played with intensity and a strong sense of purpose. With Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward out, the two most valuable components of their offense thus far, head coach Quin Snyder took advantage of the opportunity to experiment. Opting for a mostly-veteran starting unit comprised of George Hill, Rodney Hood, Joe Johnson, Boris Diaw, and Rudy Gobert, it became immediately clear that the Jazz were looking to utilize ball movement and outside shooting. With a more savvy starting unit, players did not put the ball down on the floor very often, opting instead to operate off quick passes, hand-offs, and high screens. And at the other end of the floor, operating with wingspan at every position, the Jazz deftly read passing lanes and and effectively prevented the Clippers’ many attempts at cutting to the basket. Dante Exum, who missed the entire 2015-16 season while rehabbing a torn ACL, was the first player off of the bench for the Jazz; he looked sharp and showed early flashes of brilliance, particularly with his defense, lateral quickness, and newfound quick-release from behind the arc. Snyder, while staggering minutes, opted to allow his starters to play the majority of the half. Momentary lapses and turnovers hurt the Jazz at times, but Snyder appears to have all of his players totally engaged at both ends and buying-in to his vision. The Clippers, conversely, started the game quite differently.

While the Clippers defense struggled through much of the first quarter, they became adept at anticipating Jazz passes and progressively improved at contesting jumpers as the first half moved along. But despite the Clippers’ improvement at the defensive end of the floor, what was most disappointing through the entire first half was their lack of pace, flow, and overall consistency offensively. The starting unit for the Clippers was comprised of Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Alan Anderson, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan. The Clippers managed to capitalize upon careless turnovers by the Jazz and were able to read, and take advantage-of, mismatches on the floor. But the three ball just didn’t fall, and the ball stuck often. The Clippers, at times, have showed a new willingness to move the ball more during half-court sets throughout the preseason thus far. But during the first half, they relied heavily on predictable pick-and-roll and isolation plays, that often turned into contested, forced jumpers at the hands of the sharp Jazz defense. The Clippers were able to turn things around, however.

From the very last possession of the first half, on through the beginning of the third quarter, the Clippers went on a 14-0 scoring run (which was preceded by an 11-0 scoring run by the Jazz). After hitting just a couple threes in the first half despite their many attempts, Paul and Redick hit back-to-back shots from behind the arc to begin the second half. Griffin also dominated early in the third quarter, baiting both Diaw and Trey Lyles into multiple fouls; Griffin got himself into foul trouble as well shortly thereafter, but he demonstrated the need to make offensive decisions much more quickly. Griffin either scored at the rim, drew defenders to open up passing lanes, or drew fouls in the paint when he got touches early in possessions. Even after most of the starters finally retired for the night, the game remained predicated upon scoring runs and long defensive lapses for both teams.

Marreese Speights and Jamal Crawford were very impactful down the stretch. Marreese Speights strung together multiple possessions of either scoring or drawing fouls; and while he severely lacks lateral quickness in keeping opposing players from slashing to the hoop, he’s got a nose for the ball and demonstrates good defensive instincts. Crawford, known for his scoring prowess, often in quick bursts, wasn’t the same Crawford from last season…and this is a very good thing. It sounds crazy to say that about someone who just won his third Sixth Man of the Year award. He was quite impressive offensively in the fourth quarter. But he’s found a new ability to pass on the fly and get the ball to open teammates quickly. Over the last several seasons, Crawford has drawn-out half-court sets for unnecessary stretches of time, allowing defenses to get set perfectly and forcing him into bad, well-contested shots. Perhaps the additions of Speights, Brandon Bass, and Anderson have helped, and perhaps he’s simply become accustomed to tendencies by Wesley Johnson, Austin Rivers, and Paul Pierce, but he clearly has a newfound trust in his teammates. His court vision was impressive, even though his 4 assists in 29 minutes don’t jump off the page. Despite the flow and trust the Clippers’ secondary players have found in one another, they could not hang on down the stretch.

Both teams closed out the game with careless turnovers and multiple fouls, which severely altered the once-steadfast pace of the game. For the Jazz, this was excusable; with so many new additions learning to gel and so many young players still learning the game at the NBA level, they are adjusting to a myriad of factors (though their combined 21 turnovers nearly cost them the game). For the Clippers, who are mostly the same roster from last season, have continually had problems closing out close games. Turnovers by Crawford and Rivers ultimately hurt them in the end, and they would fall to the Jazz by just two points.

What worked well for the Jazz:

Rebounding - The Jazz out-rebounded the Clippers 51-30 (38-23 on defensive boards)

Veteran Presence - Hill, Johnson, and Diaw fit like a glove on this Jazz team. Expect them to make a significant impact on this young core of players.

What didn’t work well for the Jazz:

Turnovers - While their pace helped them a lot throughout the game, it directly contributed to carelessness in transition. The Jazz also had 21 total turnovers in the game, most likely an attribute of their collective youth and inexperience.

What worked well for the Clippers:

Bench Players - While Griffin and Paul were effective in limited minutes, Speights and Crawford quickly provided necessary offense in the second half while Rivers and Johnson provided excellent defensive possessions. This second unit also likes to play with pace, and depending on the exact rotation, can provide size advantages at every position. The Clippers’ secondary unit will become crucial in many games this season.

What didn’t work well for the Clippers:

Rebounding - The Jazz out-rebounded the Clippers 51-30; for a team with plenty of front-court size and depth, giving up 21 rebounds to an injury-riddled, young team, is inexcusable, preseason or not. While Doc is a huge proponent of conceding offensive rebounds in favor of transition defense, the Jazz led the Clippers on defensive boards by a differential of 15. The Clippers absolutely need to get better at rebounding this season.

What’s next for the Clippers:

Portland Trail Blazers at Los Angeles Clippers

Staples Center, 10/13, 7:30pm PST

It’s only preseason, but go grab some popcorn for this one anyway.