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Clippers Quiet Jazz, 102-84

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The Clippers aced their first real test, showing off at both ends of the floor.

NBA: Utah Jazz at Los Angeles Clippers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

These Clippers like third quarters.

The third frame, a make-or-break quarter, the period that notably precipitated last season’s Timberwolf flop, has been a prosperous one for Doc Rivers’ team in 2017-18’s early going. The Clippers entered the game having earned 25 of their +58 overall scoring margin in third quarters, and used a 33-15 tally for a +18 profit tonight to tip the Utah Jazz in their first real test of the season.

And it was a real test, not the kind of open-book laugher posed by the likes of the Suns and Lakers. Despite their newish look, the Jazz sport depth, skill, shooting, and a merciless defense. They entered tonight having already taken down two of the West’s presumed upper-middle class.

They also employ Ricky Rubio and Ricky Rubio’s well-conditioned hair, and Rubio employs a new trick: selfishness. The fancy passer has faced criticism for his inability to score with consistent effectiveness, but looked for his own shot early as the Clippers’ defensive design left him space to shoot. He converted four of his first five attempts, but cooled quickly to finish with just 10 points and 5 assists.

Rubio wasn’t the story of this game, though. Tempo was.

Tempo carries an inordinately heavy load in the sports commentator’s lexicon, but there are games such as this one that demonstrate the truth behind the timeworn. When the Clippers controlled the tempo, they scored. (They like it fast.) When the Jazz controlled the tempo, the Clippers didn’t score. (The Jazz like it slow. They’re like Norah Jones.)

The fast first quarter benefited the go-go Clippers, and Blake Griffin and the swipey Patrick Beverley led a 27-20 charge. Beverley had his hands on so many Utah passes that he may have led the Jazz in usage rate. May have. He finished with 3 steals and myriad frustrated opponents.

Blake paired a staggering combination of mid-career versatility with the reemergence of his early-career athleticism. In the first quarter alone, he notched what should go down as the Blake Griffin Hat Trick: a (THUNDEROUS) dunk, a dime, and a three. Blake finished with a game-high 22 points, adding 9 boards and 6 assists.

The forward’s importance to the offense was quickly illustrated by the Clippers’ second quarter scuffle. With their best playmaker on the bench and their (arguably) second-best playmaker, Milos Teodosic, sidelined indefinitely with a bum foot, the Clippers’ precise pass-and-cut scheme unraveled. Beverley played all but four seconds of the second quarter to spearhead the defense, but Lou Williams struggled with his shooting as the Jazz closed to within a single point at the half. Lou managed just 9 points for the game on 3-for-10 shooting.

So came the third quarter, and the Clippers dashed their way to a 19-point lead that you might think hardly wavered were you only to see the box score. Instead, the metronome swung the other direction and the Jazz ground their way back into the game behind rookie Donovan Mitchell, who scored 15 of his team-high 19 points in the fourth to put a scare in the Staples Center crowd. Three-pointers from Blake and Austin Rivers, who chipped in 16 in his first start of the campaign, restored order. A 14-2 closing run finished off the Astros Jazz.

Next up: @ Portland, Thursday night.

Notables:

  • Doc stuck to a short rotation. Ninth man Sindarius Thornwell earned just 4 minutes. Beverley played 42. (Fatigue may have contributed to his racking up 7 turnovers.) Danilo Gallinari (14 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals) played 39. So much for having the deepest roster in recent Clipper memory.
  • DeAndre Jordan once again bested his French counterpart, Rudy Gobert. DeAndre grabbed 18 boards to Rudy’s 7.
  • The Jazz made just a quarter of their 28 three-point attempts. Joe Ingles and Alec Burks combined to miss all but two of their own. The Clippers frenzied but focused defense deserves a lot of the credit. These Clippers play faster and on a tauter string.
  • Playoff foe Joe Johnson scored 10 off the bench. Noted rebounder (??) Thabo Sefolosha led the Jazz with 12 rebounds and played two more minutes than Derrick Favors (3 rebounds). The Jazz are downsizing.