17 seconds into game 1 of the first-round series between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz, presumptive Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert suffered a sprained left knee and left the game for good.
Despite the absence of Utah’s best rim protector, the Clippers turned in a lackluster offensive performance, scoring just 95 points and allowing the Jazz to dictate the pace of the game. Chris Paul, after a strangely passive opening three quarters, scored 10 straight points in the fourth to pull the Clippers back into the game, and ultimately scored with 13 seconds left to tie the game before Joe Johnson hurried down the court and dropped in a floater at the final horn to win the game.
Blake Griffin was dominant in the first half, with 20 early points, but stumbled in the second half, finishing with just 26 points for the night and six troubling turnovers.
The Clippers struggled to find a shooting guard capable of contributing, as J.J. Redick was engulfed by Joe Ingles’ defense, scoring just 7 points and committing 4 early turnovers. Jamal Crawford showed early life off of the bench, but faded in the second half and finished just 4-12 from the field while displaying his normal porous defense. Raymond Felton provided a bit of a spark defensively, but he has shot just 11% from deep since the All-Star Break and the offensive spacing was poor whenever he played.
For the Jazz, Joe Johnson was the MVP of the game for more than just his gamewinner. He led Utah in scoring, posting an efficient 21 points off of the bench and keeping them alive in the first half while Gordon Hayward struggled. Then, in the second half, Johnson spent a lot of time guarding Blake Griffin and effectively stifling him in the post. That’s a match-up that Blake Griffin needs to win going forward.
Gobert’s injury was certainly tragic, but for the Clippers it represents a blown opportunity. We currently don’t know if Rudy will return to this series, or when, but the Clippers should have had a playoff win tonight and they didn’t. Now, they face the troubling prospect of needing to win three of the next four games just to avoid an elimination game. Beyond that, if they are able to bounce back and win this series, they’ll have to face that reality that a blown game 1 is the reason that yet another first-round opponent will drag them to a 7th game.