Luc Mbah a Moute: Forget playing like a prince. Luc has been a full-bore KING in this series, playing picture-perfect defense against Jazz star Gordon Hayward for almost 40 minutes a game, and making useful contributions in other areas as well. His cutting ability is highly underrated, and his two baskets in Game 2 were both quite timely. More importantly, he collected eight rebounds in the win, extremely valuable for a Clippers team that has struggled on the glass at times. Luc is always in the right place at the right time on both ends, and does every little thing that you want from a role player. If he continues to play defense at this level for the rest of the series, it will be very tough for the Jazz to win.
Chris Paul: Chris Paul hasn’t been perfect in the series thus far. He didn’t correctly balance scoring and playmaking in Game 1, not turning on the heat until the game was already in the Jazz’s favor. Game 2 was much better, but he did have five turnovers, an uncharacteristically high number for the usually careful Point God. Two consistent positives have stood out though. The first is that Paul’s defense, always superb, has been at a particularly high level so far. He’s been absolutely stellar guarding George Hill, and has done well against Utah’s wings when switched on them. Chris’ ability to collect steals like candy and disrupt the point of attack has helped shut down Utah’s already mediocre offense. The second plus has been Paul’s ease at getting open shots down the stretch. George Hill is a player who looks ready-made to guard Paul: longer, taller, younger, more athletic, the whole package. He hasn’t been able to stop Paul from getting to his spots at all. Whenever the Clippers have needed a basket, Paul has worked his way into his little jumper from the elbow from 15 feet out, and drained it. Hill’s ineffectiveness stopping Paul bodes really well for the rest of the series.
Blake Griffin struggling in post: Blake has been mostly good in this series. He was terrific in the first half of Game 1, struggled in the second, and was solid throughout Game 2. He’s connected on a few threes, made all of his free throws, and scored in decent volume. The bad: his rebounding has been quite poor, his scoring has been inefficient, and he has struggled mightily in the post against Joe Johnson. Blake has the largest matchup advantage in this series—most of his minutes have come against an old Boris Diaw and a just as grey-bearded Johnson. While not a top 10 player anymore, Blake is still an All-NBA player when healthy, and has a massive size and athleticism edge on his defenders. Sadly, he hasn’t been able to really use that edge for any benefit. He’s been mostly kept away from the basket, and his few drives have been well contested. Blake did have a couple nice dunks in the Clippers’ win, but he hasn’t truly dominated for any elongated stretch. Hopefully he’s able to do so in the upcoming games, especially as the series shifts to Utah.
JJ Redick and Jamal Crawford: The Clippers’ shooting guard rotation has been dreadful. Redick is averaging 5.5 points per game right now, and Jamal is at 9 points per game. JJ is 5-13 from the field while Jamal is 7-24, and they are 1-5 and 0-9 from three respectively. That’s awful. Neither has been able to find any room to breathe against the Jazz’ stifling perimeter defense, and Jamal in particular has resorted to forcing shots. On the other end, JJ has been ok against the Jazz wings, while Jamal, as usual, has gotten torched. The Clippers need to find ways to get both guys going, because even though they are 1-1, and had a chance to be up 2-0 even with poor games from the duo, they won’t be able to win the series if this level of play is going to be the norm.
Doc’s rotations: I think Doc has coached solidly for the most part. But his rotations are still baffling at times. There are stretches in these games where none of the Clippers’ Big 3 are on the court at the same time, and that simply can’t happen in the playoffs. A lineup of Ray Felton—JJ Redick—Jamal Crawford—Paul Pierce—Mo Speights played at some point, and my mind was simply blown. Even replacing Pierce with Luc doesn’t change the fact that that lineup is offensively and defensively challenged to the extreme against a real playoff team. There’s no excuse for not fully staggering at this point with the Clippers’ best players all healthy, and one of them needs to be on the court at all times. Paul Pierce needs to not play, ever. The best option would just be to play an 8-man rotation until Austin Rivers comes back, and hope the starters can carry the team to a couple victories. If Doc doesn’t want to do that, every player on the roster bar Brice Johnson and Diamond Stone is a better option than Pierce. The Truth had a couple nice layups last night, but he also almost had a few horrid turnovers, and they were barely held onto by the Clippers at the other end of his passes. Worse, his defense is abominable. He can’t stay in front of Joe Johnson, and has nobody else to even attempt to guard on the Jazz’ roster. Wes Johnson and Alan Anderson are the definition of “meh”, but at least they’re still viable NBA players. Pierce is not, and his time in the rotation needs to end.