Good god, Chris Paul.
Despite playing from behind for most of the night, the Los Angeles Clippers were able to rally for a scintillating 111-106 victory on Friday night thanks in large part to Chris Paul. CP3 ate the Jazz alive late in the fourth and finished with 34 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds as the Clippers regained control of the series.
LeBron James put on an epic show in leading the Cavs to an improbable victory on Thursday night, but the show CP3 put on with the game on the line in this one was legendary. Everybody in the arena knew he was going to shoot, yet the Jazz could do nothing to stop him. Paul connected on 12 of his 22 shots in the game and put the entire state of Utah to bed by himself in the game’s latter stages with a series of incredible offensive displays.
We can’t bury the lede, though. Blake Griffin left the game for good just before halftime after suffering an injury to his right big toe, and his status for the remainder of the series is very much up in the air. The Clips were able to survive without him over the final 24 minutes tonight, but if he’s going to be sidelined for an extended period of time it’ll be par for the course as far as LAC postseason injury luck has gone in recent years.
Gordon Hayward was fantastic for the Jazz, finishing with a game-high 40 points along with eight rebounds and four assists. The Clippers had absolutely no answer for him during the first half, but he was rather quiet after the break.
A defensive adjustment for Utah was evident right out of the gates, as Quin Snyder opted to put Joe “Your Dad” Ingles on Chris Paul, and tasked George Hill with chasing JJ Redick all around the perimeter. Considering CP3 put Hill into the wood chipper in the last game, it wasn’t particularly surprising to see Snyder give Paul a different look to start.
After being draped throughout Game 2 by Luc Mbah a Moute, the Jazz made a point to get Gordon Hayward involved offensively from the jump. He was getting the ball off of screens and confidently popping early. He canned three of his first four jumpers to score a quick seven for the home team.
Hayward needlessly shoved DeAndre Jordan in the back on what would’ve been an easy dunk ahead of the six minute mark, which was Gordon’s second infraction of the game. Snyder opted to roll the dice and leave him in there, however. That proved wise, as Hayward promptly hit another two shots to give him 12 of Utah’s first 16 points. And he wasn’t even close to being finished.
LAC was curiously switching when it wasn’t completely necessary, and Utah was happy to punish the resulting mismatches. Not only were the switches leading to size discrepancies that were disadvantageous to the Clips, but they were also inexplicably leading to wide open looks for Jazz shooters on the perimeter. A pointless switch that left CP3 on Joe Johnson in the post forced Jordan to help, which in turn forced LMAM to cover Derrick Favors under the rim. That left, you know who, Hayward free in the corner, and he promptly drained yet another.
Down 25-21, Doc Rivers made the pro move to insert Paul Pierce for Blake Griffin, who started the game 3-5 with seven points. Shockingly, putting Pierce and Jamal Crawford into the game didn’t suddenly cure the Clips’ defensive woes. Hayward got fouled taking a three-pointer and knocked down all three free throws inside the final minute of the first to give him 21 points in the first 12 minutes alone. After one, it was Hayward 21, Clippers 21. Also, Jazz 34, Clippers 21.
LA shot 9-20 (45 percent) in the first, which is certainly passable. Unfortunately, Utah shot 70 percent in the quarter, which isn’t passable if you’re the Clippers.
The Clips started the second with Griffin alongside four benchies. Raymond Felton certainly did his best to try and get the road team back into it. He drilled his first three attempts, including a three, to bring LA within 10 about a quarter of the way into the second.
LAC made no apparent defensive adjustments after a disastrous first quarter, but Utah wasn’t really able to pull away. A layup from Mbah a Moute pulled the Clips to within six with five to play in the half.
Because this is the Clippers and we aren’t allowed to have nice things, Blake Griffin came down awkwardly on his right leg after a layup late in the period. Cameras caught him slamming his hand on the bench in frustration before heading to the locker room. This is fine. Everything’s fine.
Utah led 58-49 at the break, and the Clippers officially said that Griffin was suffering from a “sore big toe.” Just after halftime, noted golf enthusiast Tom Rinaldi reported that Griffin would miss the remainder of the game with the bruised toe.
Mo Speights started the second half at the four spot with Griffin sidelined. Despite being without (arguably) their best player, the Clippers showed excellent fight in the third. Chris Paul began to assert himself offensively and proceeded to make life hell for George Hill.
Hayward drilled yet another triple to throw the Vivint Smart Home Arena (really) crowd into a frenzy, only for Luc to come back the other way and nail one of his own from the corner to keep the deficit at two.
Raul Neto scored a quick five points for Utah to begin the fourth, which is, let’s say, something you won’t really fret over if you’re the Clippers. Still, LAC was able to keep it close. Crawford hit a pair of his patented pull-up jumpers to make it 96-90 Jazz with about seven to play.
Doc Rivers legitimately ran a lineup featuring Jamal Crawford, Paul Pierce and LMAM in the fourth of a close playoff game, yet it inexplicably didn’t kill the Clippers at first. The Jazz mercifully started to miss open shots. A Hayward misfire led to a stickback for Luc, and a wide-open miss from Joe Johnson eventually led to a cold-blooded triple from CP3 to give LAC its first lead since the first quarter at 97-96.
Paul then effortlessly tore the Utah defense to shreds on the next possession and got himself an uncontested layup to put LA up three with about three minutes to go. You could almost pinpoint the moment the collective hearts of the Vivint Smart Home Arena crowd snapped in half.
That score capped an 11-0 Clipper run. CP3 extended it to 13-0 when he effortlessly slashed to the rim and finished a floater to put Lawler’s Law into action and extend the Clips’ lead to five at 101-96. A floating bank shot by the point gawd gave him 30 points on the night and gave LA a 103-96 advantage with just under two minutes left.
Joe Johnson answered, though, with back-to-back buckets to make it a one-possession game with a minute left. Paul missed on the ensuing possession, but DJ rose like Superman for an offensive board that forced a foul from Derrick Favors. He hit the first and missed the second.
The Jazz center got fouled on the other end, but Derrick did the Clippers some Favors by missing both of his shots from the stripe. From there, the Clips hit enough free throws to stave off any late Jazz rally.
So, here we are. The Clippers will take a 2-1 series lead into Game 4 on Sunday afternoon, and there’s no telling if we’ll see Blake Griffin or Rudy Gobert. So it goes. Griffin’s absence made this Clipper win even sweeter, but here’s hoping this isn’t yet another devastating blow that’ll cost the Clips yet another playoff run.