It turns out the nail can shoot itself out from under the hammer.
Losers of 17 of their last 18 against the Clippers, the Utah Jazz rode a second half of holy shooting fire to a 114-108 victory, beating LA in Salt Lake City for the first time in more than five years. The Jazz doused the Clippers with a sudden shower of threes, converting their first 9 after halftime and 14 of 21 (66.7%) overall.
Whether by necessity (i.e. tired legs) or design, the Clippers sagged on defense and dared the Jazz to fire away. And fire away they did, at first to little effect. The Jazz made only 3 of their 9 from deep in the first half.
Quin Snyder’s offense was flummoxed early by Doc Rivers’ defense like in so many other meetings between these teams. Utah’s simplistic attack lacked the side-to-side movement necessary to open sufficient cracks for shooting space. It was solely by inspired individual efforts from Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gobert, and Clippers’ cast-off Joe Ingles that the Jazz lingered for a 7-point halftime deficit that could’ve been double that. In so doing, they withstood an uncharacteristic scoring onslaught by Chris Paul, who worked aggressively for his own shot to score 18 first-half points, 16 of which came in the first quarter. Paul would finish with 33 points and 7 assists against a single turnover.
Then, a different Jazz team took the floor in the second half. George Hill looked particularly energized, working decisively off of second actions that had been ponderous earlier. Hill scored 14 of his 19 points in the second half, adding 8 rebounds and 6 assists.
But the lion’s share of credit for the shooting and for the win goes to the All-Star, Hayward, who took greatest advantage of his opponents’ defensive leniency with 27 points. He sank 4 of his 5 three-point attempts, most of which came off screens and off the bounce at the top of the arc.
Gobert, who returned after a one-game injury-related absence, rang up an 11 and 10 double-double. He recorded just 1 block but altered several others, erasing the Clippers’ path to easy shots and setting a defensive tone for the game’s decisive stretch run. He also involved himself in some chippiness, getting physical late with some Clipper guards and riling the crowd into a near-playoff din.
Ingles also starred, making the most of his 26 minutes off the bench in spelling the foul-ridden Rodney Hood, tallying 18 points and 3 threes. Joe Johnson chipped in with 14, also off the bench, and some stout defense against Blake Griffin that was pretty handy for the converted but always physical 2-guard.
Griffin had trouble getting unlocked against Johnson as well as other Jazz defenders, including Boris Diaw, who started for the injured Derrick Favors. Griffin managed just 8 points, although he did contribute 9 rebounds and 5 assists.
DeAndre Jordan added 12 points, but was unable to dictate a matchup he had won several times before. JJ Redick (16), Jamal Crawford (11), and Austin Rivers (15) also contributed double-digit scoring, with Austin’s second-quarter ownership of Utah’s paint playing a major part in his team’s first-half lead.
Overall, the Clippers’ offense did its job, shooting its way to a 50/40/78 line, although their three-point conversion rate was heavily influenced by Chris Paul’s 5-for-11 performance. Austin was the only other Clipper to splash more than one from deep.
But, in what some in Jazz fan-circles considered the biggest game of their season so far, Utah recovered from a listless first half to give themselves a two-game cushion in the standings and a chance for the series tie when the two teams meet for the fourth and final time at STAPLES Center later this month. In the season-long scheme of things, a tired Clippers team succumbing to a hot-shooting one at altitude represents a loss one could live with, even if that loss provides some sort of confidence boost, however immeasurable, to their likely first-round playoff opponent.