No Blake Griffin. No Rudy Gobert. No Patrick Beverley. No Rodney Hood. No Milos Teodosic or Danilo Gallinari. No Joe Johnson, Raul Neto, or Dante Exum.
The Utah Jazz’ superior scoring depth ignited lopsided runs in the third and fourth quarters to earn the victory in a surprisingly offensive game, 126-107. The remaining Clippers played with admirable verve and chemistry, but couldn’t maintain their unexpected effectiveness for 48 minutes. The Jazz could.
Quin Snyder simply had more to work with. Donovan Mitchell is a star-in-waiting, and Ricky Rubio is a lauded orchestrator, but where Doc Rivers’ active list of proven creators is exhausted after two names (Austin Rivers and Lou Williams), Snyder’s continues through Alec Burks, Joe Ingles, and apparently even undrafted rookie Royce O’Neale.
Seven Jazzes scored in double digits. Five were credited at least 5 assists. They made 17 threes on 35 attempts.
Oh, and did I mention Donovan Mitchell?
The thirteenth pick and rookie dynamo has game that belies his 21 years. He has gravitas. He changes speeds. He’s fast but rarely rushed. He slammed home an alley-oop, and not just barely. (He’s 6’3”.) He scored 26 points, handed out 6 assists, splashed 9 of 16 shots, 5 of 10 threes, and was a full-court pain-in-the-rear. He carried a heavy offensive load and barely sweated it.
And when Mitchell hit the bench, Alec Burks resumed the mayhem. Remember Burks and his long-legged, bouncy inside/outside game? He danced into the paint and dropped 4 threes, scoring a game-high 28 off the bench. Burks was plus-30 in 29 minutes.
The performance of the Utah guards overshadowed a strong night by the Clippers’ backcourt duo. Austin Rivers couldn’t manage a point in the fourth quarter, but with a team-high 25, all coming in the first three quarters, he looked for a time like he might threaten his career-best. He scored 8 of the Clippers’ first 9 points on the night and keyed an early 21-12 lead. His aggressiveness was critical. He even took a charge!
Lou Williams submitted another professional performance. He struggled from the field, converting only 6 of 14 field goals, but tallied 20 overall and earned 6 trips to the free throw line. The Clippers needed those free throws -- they attempted 30 total -- as this game aimed to slip away even more quickly without them.
There were positives in the Clippers’ performance as a whole. The ball movement was crisp and joyous for long stretches. DeAndre Jordan and Wes Johnson looked fully engaged, each submitting a satisfactory product. DeAndre’s activity and 6 offensive boards (16 total) were an important factor in the team’s 36 minutes of competitiveness.
We also saw the first of Doc’s rotating Blake-replacements. Montrezl Harrell was tabbed for his first start as a Clipper and his partnership with DeAndre worked better than it could have. That kind of shooting-deficient frontcourt seems better suited for 1997 than 2017, but Harrell’s savvy movement and passing worked productively within the limited spacing. He dunked his way to a mini-DeAndre-like 5-for-5 shooting line.
If there’s a warning, then it’s a critical one. The Clippers lost a game in which they shot better than 54% from the field. Actually, they EASILY lost a game in which they shot better than 54% from the field. With so much playmaking talent relegated to the sideline, their margin for error is slim, and when the ping-ping-ping passing scheme finds itself a hair off, the turnovers come crashing in. Each of Doc’s starters coughed it up at least twice, and his Clippers gifted their opponents 19 free possessions. Too many of those came in the final quarter, spurring the Jazz to a 21-4 dagger of a run.
The season isn’t over yet, not judging by the commitment of the Clippers healthy enough to put on uniforms. But they faced a Jazz roster nearly as depleted as their own. Until Gallinari and Teodosic get back, it’s not likely to get much easier.
- The Clippers’ offense ground to a halt without Lou Williams on the floor. It was retrograde when both Lou AND Austin hit the bench. Doc wisely rotated his two remaining creators through the second half, ensuring that at least one could steer the offense while the game was still in question. That’s not a knock on Jawun Evans — he plays hard. But he’s a rookie, and this wasn’t his best game.
- The Clippers wore their new black alternates for the first time this season. I refuse to use the silly name.