Led by 21 points, 18 rebounds and 5 steals from Cole Aldrich, the Los Angeles Clippers earned an improbable 51st win of the season Friday night in Salt Lake City. The Jazz needed a win tonight to essentially lock themselves into the playoffs, but managed to lose on their home floor to a team that started Aldrich, Luc Mbah a Moute, Paul Pierce, Jamal Crawford and Pablo Prigioni.
Nice job, Jazz! In honor of your effort tonight, here's this (via @asaprockytalk):
Paul Pierce started the game guarding Derrick Favors, which is more than enough reason to be glad that Blake Griffin is back and (semi) healthy. Regardless of that mismatch, the Zombie Clippers jumped out to a quick 14-4 lead over Utah. The Jazz looked sluggish and careless with the ball, while the Clippers got themselves a few easy buckets in transition.
LAC's offense began to stagnate a bit as the period progressed, and there was a noticeable increase in intensity from the desperate Jazz. The Clips' quality of looks declined pretty sharply as Utah finally started to chip away. To close the first, the Clippers had Jamal Crawford, C.J. Wilcox, Jeff Green, Branden Dawson and Jeff Ayres on the floor together. That's a five-man unit that had played exactly zero minutes of NBA basketball together before tonight, and it showed.
A Trevor Booker buzzer-beating three-pointer from the corner gave the Jazz their first lead and a 26-25 advantage after one.
Without both Chris Paul and Austin Rivers, the Clippers had nobody that resembles a point guard available other than Pablo Prigioni. The offense remained ineffective with Wilcox making a cameo as a PG early in the second, and a Gordon Hayward longball made it 41-34 Utah before Doc Rivers called for time.
The Jazz, of course, make their hay as one of the NBA's stingiest defensive units, so it's no surprise the Clips' cast of backups was struggling to find their way. A cascade of shot clock violations, tough shots and careless turnovers was starting to dig the Clippers an early grave in this game. LAC was competing hard and contesting most of Utah's shots on the other end, but when you can't score yourself it's rather difficult to keep pace.
However, a Paul Pierce three-pointer (???) coming out of a timeout and a three-point play the old fashioned way by Crawford brought L.A. back to within four with two minutes left in the half. With more needed out of him on offense, Pierce actually showed something in this half. He made a few of his patented slow-mo off-the-dribble moves and finished the first 24 minutes with 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting from the floor. It would be nice to think that this is the version of Pierce LAC will get once the playoffs roll around, but we'll wait and see on that front.
Crawford just missed a deep three just ahead of the buzzer and the Jazz led 52-47 going into the intermission.
The tables turned quite a bit in the third, though, as the Clippers suddenly came to life on offense while the Jazz were the stagnant team on offense. Jamal Crawford went full Jamal Crawford, raining three straight jumpers - two of them from three - to put LAC up 68-58 about halfway through the period. Utah wasn't even getting bad looks, they were just bricking everything.
Cole Aldrich also channeled his inner Hakeem Olajuwon, and finished the third with a total of 15 points and 12 boards on the night. Pierce also added two more threes in the frame, but limped to the bench about halfway through. He would return to the game, so whatever the injury was must not have been so bad. Utah mounted a mini-surge to close things out, though, and the Clips' lead was cut to just six heading into the fourth.
Utah's run continued into the fourth, culminating in an Alec Burks three-pointer that put the Jazz ahead 77-76 as they finally started to gain a bit of steam. Prigioni and Aldrich returned to the game at the eight-minute mark when Jeff Green nailed a triple to seesaw the Clips back on top at 81-79.
Green hit a hook shot before blocking an attempt on the other end, but came down awkwardly on his ankle. LAC tried to intentionally foul Shelvin Mack in an attempt to get Green out of the game, but the officials ruled that Mack was in the process of shooting a three-pointer. As he was shooting his three free throws, Doc Rivers jawed enough at the officials to warrant a technical. Even though they'd initially fouled Mack in a presumed attempt to get Green out of the game, he remained in the lineup. As a result, the Clippers gave Utah four points for no apparent reason.
Mack and Rodney Hood each nailed a longball on consecutive scoreless Clipper possessions and suddenly the Jazz owned a four-point lead at 89-85. The Clippers turned the ball over, leading to a Joe Ingles dunk (???) and Prigioni drew a technical (???) for complaining about a non-call on the other end. The Jazz were on a 13-0 run, and the wheels were falling off for LAC at this point. What had once been a 85-79 lead was now a 92-85 deficit. That's a scoring drought of over four minutes, folks.
A hobbled Green finally ended the drought with a three-pointer before Aldrich forced a turnover against Hayward just under the two-minute warning. The Zombien Clippers' bread and butter play - also known as the Prigioni/Aldrich pick-and-roll - worked to perfection to make it 92-90 on the next possession. Hayward and Crawford each hit a pair of freebies
Hakeem "Cole Aldrich" Olajuwon emphatically rejected a driving layup attempt from Rodney Hood, and suddenly, the Clips found themselves with a chance to tie or take the lead with 19 seconds to play. Aldrich then scored an incredible putback layup at the death of the shot clock to tie things up at 94. Overtime!
Burks opened the extra session with a triple, but a lefty hook shot by Olajuwon and a Green three put LAC back in the lead at 99-97 halfway through overtime. The teams traded bricks until a moving screen call against Aldrich gave Utah possession with 41 ticks to play. Hood missed a driving one-hander on the next possession, and Aldrich corralled the miss for his 18th board of the game.
And then? Jamal Crawford happened. J-Crossover nailed a triple off the dribble to put the nail in the coffin for Utah with just 0.2 seconds to play. Goodnight, Utah.
OK. So Utah winning this game would've all but ensured a playoff berth, yet they managed to lose at home to a Clipper team without Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin, Austin Rivers, Wesley Johnson and J.J. Redick. Oops!
Utah had the ball with the game tied and over 40 seconds to go, yet opted to try and get a quality shot instead of trying for the two-for-one, which ultimately killed them. They also had a foul to give on the Clippers' final possession, let allowed Crawford to take an unimpeded three rather than fouling and making the Clips reset. These were two horrendous gaffes from Quin Snyder, and the Clippers were the beneficiaries.
Here's the Crawford three that killed the Jazz tonight, courtesy of @TheCauldron:
The Clippers earned their 51st win of the season despite playing with backups and being 13.5 point underdogs according to Vegas. Crawford led all scorers with 30 points on 9-for-20 shooting from the floor. It's always fun to play spoiler, no? The Clippers' regulars will be back in action Sunday in Los Angeles when they take on the Mavericks.