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2017 NBA Playoffs: Final Score: Clippers 99, Jazz 91

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The Clippers asserted control from the start and never gave up their lead, despite a few Utah pushes here and there.

Utah Jazz v Los Angeles Clippers - Game One Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The Clippers hadn’t lost a Game 1 since 2014, which was also a home loss in an uneven game to a defense-first, low-assist team missing an elite rim protector. Was history going to repeat itself?

FIRST QUARTER

As you might expect after such a dismaying upset, the Clippers came out aggressive from the jump. Unlike Game 1, Chris Paul looked for his shot from the very first play, nailing a wide open midrange jumper. He was everywhere in the early going, with 7 points, 4 assists, and 2 steals in his first stint.

The Clippers also looked to get DeAndre Jordan involved early, feeding him for multiple earth-shattering dunks. The energetic, engaged Clips hopped out to an early 11-3 lead before Utah could find their bearings.

Both he and Blake Griffin had early impact blocks (Blake’s was particularly memorable, as he ate up Derrick Favors on one end before following it with a big throwdown in transition). The Clippers just took Utah behind the woodshed on the defensive end. Their effort was — dare I say it? — reminiscent of the November Clippers.

However, Chris Paul picked up his second foul (both offensive) with 4 minutes left in the quarter, and in a befuddling move Doc Rivers sent both him and Blake to the bench. But that wasn’t half as shocking as Paul Pierce coming on and having productive minutes, including a fadeaway jumper in the paint and a driving layup on Jeff Withey.

Utah hit 4 of their first 6 attempts from beyond the arc to keep them within striking distance, but the Clippers were buoyed by the play of DeAndre Jordan, who owned the first quarter. His efforts (10 points, 5 rebounds, 5-5 from the field) were key to LA establishing an early double-digit lead despite Redick and LRMAM both going scoreless.

End of 1st Quarter: Clippers 29, Jazz 18

SECOND QUARTER

Doc came out of the break with a lineup of Raymond Felton, J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford, Blake Griffin, and Marreese Speights. The Clippers have been demonstrably better with Speights-Jordan instead of Griffin-Speights, but only one has gotten minutes so far.

Predictably, Utah was able to cut into the deficit against that crew, with a Joe Johnson-led bench unit cutting the lead to 33-27 within three minutes, forcing a timeout.

The Clippers’ defensive intensity fell off a cliff once DeAndre left the floor, as Utah almost matched their first quarter scoring output in the first 6 minutes of the second. That wasn’t to say it was all bad, though.

J.J. Redick finally took his first attempt with 4 minutes left in the half, a money midrange shot from the same spot CP3 drilled it from 20 minutes earlier. However, for the most part he again struggled to get much going against incredible Utah defense, neutralizing him in a way even Kawhi Leonard had never been able to do.

Despite Chris getting called for a third foul, the Clippers stayed in control thanks to Blake and DeAndre having their way with Utah’s frontcourt. Without Rudy Gobert available, the Jazz had to resort to extended minutes for Jeff Withey — not an effective strategy for them.

After two quarters, the Clippers were led by DeAndre’s 14-10 double-double, while Blake chipped in with 13 of his own. They had 18(!) assists on 23 made FGs, including 8 from the bench. Meanwhile, Utah kept pace by going 6-13 from deep, despite the Clippers hitting 62% of their shots inside the arc.

Halftime: Clippers 51, Jazz 42

THIRD QUARTER

Although Blake continued to be effective, Utah began closing the gap behind the play of Boris Diaw, whose dishing and swishing helped cut the lead to a slim 55-52 before Chris Paul retaliated with a three and highlight block/steal/layup sequence on George Hill.

The Clippers began to reassert themselves, quieting the Utah insurrection with some incredible defensive stands and great ball movement offensively. It’s rare to see a team have an offensive distribution like this anymore:

Unfortunately, the core players also had to reckon with foul trouble, as both J.J. and DeAndre picked up #4 late in the quarter. Without the big man (up to 18 and 14) on the floor, the Jazz managed to slice a 12-point lead in half.

With two minutes left, Doc put all of his Big 3 on the pine and turned to a LRMAM + bench lineup, which... held its own? Another twisting LRMAM cutting layup, another unchallenged Pierce drive to the rim, a Felton three? This game was full of surprises, as the mostly-reserve unit pushed the lead back to 11 before Joe Johnson knocked down a jumper on the final possession.

End of 3rd Quarter: Clippers 79, Jazz 70

FOURTH QUARTER

Doc came back with the same lineup, except with J.J. in LRMAM’s place. Again, somehow a unit that seemed awful on paper managed to hold its own own for the most part. I can’t explain it any further than that.

The score was 83-74 when CP3 and Blake re-entered the game with around 9:30 left. But just because Doc got away with some mad scientist rotation decisions didn’t protect him against further criticism.

Maybe Doc was onto something with the bench, as a Derrick Favors layup brought Utah within 6 again after DeAndre returned to the floor. On the Clippers’ subsequent possession, Jamal and LRMAM secured consecutive offensive rebounds and Staples Center crowd began to fervently cheer the hustle, reaching a crescendo as CP3 hit a patented jumper off a double high screen. Quin Snyder had to call another timeout as LA took a 97-89 lead with 6 minutes left in Game 2.

The two teams alternated baskets over the next few minutes, the Clippers unable to pull away despite multiple airballs from Gordon Hayward (who was frustrated again by another fantastic defensive performance from Luc Mbah a Moute). Despite a few lapses, the Clippers starters just bullied the Jazz on that end for long stretches, forcing them into incredibly tough contested shots.

DeAndre picked up his 5th foul on a Hayward drive near the two-minute mark, and a pair of free throws made the score 94-88 entering crunchtime.

After missed threes from Jamal and J.J., Blake broke the Clippers drought with a confident stroke from the left corner to put the Clippers up 9. CP3 forced a George Hill turnover on the next possession, but couldn’t stick another midrange fallaway. On the other end, DJ fouled out trying to stop Favors, sending him to the line with 50 seconds left.

Like in crunchtime of Game 1, a raucous crowd picked up on Favors’ weakness from the charity stripe and jeered at a fever pitch. Like last game, he managed to only make one of two, looking shook.

But by this point it was already too late for the Jazz, who were mostly in the game on the strength of shooting well from three (while the Clippers shot 6-20 on the night) and getting to the line significantly more.

The Clippers managed to tie the series in another low-scoring, low-pace game, and now face a pair of games in Salt Lake City, where a playoff-starved fanbase renowned for their energy will test LA’s mettle as much as the Jazz’s tenacity.

Final Score: Clippers 99, Jazz 91