You guys know the deal—Clippers reach the playoffs, and Clips Nation reaches out to bloggers and writers covering L.A.’s opponent. Today, Andrew Bailey was kind enough to answer some questions between games 3 and 4 of this first-round series.
You can follow Andy on twitter at @AndrewDBailey, and read his work at Bleacher Report and Fan Rag Sports. His podcast is on twitter at @HardwoodKnocks.
Lucas Hann: With the Clippers taking game 3, there's immense pressure on the Jazz to win game 4 and avoid a 3-1 deficit and an elimination game Tuesday night in L.A. How do you think the Jazz will react to the highest-pressure game they've played as a group? What can we expect Quin Snyder to do differently in such an intense game?
Andrew Bailey: I think Utah will come out with another huge burst of energy to start Game 4, much like the one that pushed them to a double-digit advantage in the first quarter of Game 3. The Jazz crowd will be as raucous as ever. The key, of course, is finding a way to maintain some semblance of that momentum on both ends of the floor.
Boris Diaw has been a problem on defense all season, and Derrick Favors appeared to be running on fumes as early as the second quarter. It was really all Clippers over the last 36 minutes, as they outscored Utah 90-72 after the first frame.
If Jeff Withey misses another game while dealing with off-the-court issues, Snyder may be forced to play Joel Bolomboy or Trey Lyles. The only reserves who played in Game 3 were Joe Johnson (34 minutes), Rodney Hood (20 minutes), Shelvin Mack (eight minutes) and Raul Neto (three minutes). Not a single traditional big. It's a problem when the only two bigs who do play, Favors and Diaw, don't have a prayer in protecting the paint. Bolomboy's the best option. While he doesn't have a chance to slow down DeAndre Jordan either, he may be too young to realize it. He's bouncy and plays with a ton of energy. Even 10 minutes could help.
Another adjustment that has to be made (buy maybe won't be) is Neto or Dante Exum taking all of Mack's minutes. Mack is the "veteran" Snyder trusts, a trap many NBA coaches seem to fall into. Veteran or not, Mack is getting destroyed by Raymond Felton, much like he did by backup point guards all over the league all season. He's not the defender he thinks he is, and when he pushes up on anyone well beyond the three-point line, he's just asking to get burnt.
LH: The Joe Johnson match-up has been a huge advantage for the Jazz in games 1-3, both as a bench scorer and a small-ball power forward spacing the floor with the starters. With Austin Rivers likely returning for game 4, the Clippers will finally have their best bench player active to combat Johnson. Do you think that Rivers' health can negate Johnson as an X-Factor, or do you think he'll continue to have a huge impact off of the bench?
AB: Austin Rivers' return would be a massive problem for the Jazz. They're already struggling with Felton, and in Game 3, Jamal Crawford. Another reserve guard to throw at Mack (since I don't trust Snyder to take him out of the rotation) and Hood makes those non-Chris Paul minutes even scarier. Utah has to dominate when CP3's on the bench to have any chance in this series, and it hasn't so far.
I'm not sure Rivers is a direct counter to Johnson, since the latter plays so many minutes with the starters right now, but he certainly dims the hopes for Utah's bench units winning the stretches in which they play.
LH: With Utah's interior defense now struggling for two games in a row, do you think Quin Snyder might make some adjustments going into game 4, and what could those be? Could he mix up his rotation, or perhaps play more traditional lineups with two big men? While the Jazz's interior defense has suffered, they've been able to stay in games by spacing the floor offensively, and being forced to play bigger lineups could negate that offensive advantage.
AB: This goes back to my answer in the first question. It's probably time to throw Bolomboy out there for 8-10 minutes. Lyles played a lot more this year, but he was a disaster on both ends. Bolomboy is far more athletic and energetic. So while he's likely to make plenty of rookie mistakes, his energy could help balance that out, especially against fellow reserves.
That and more minutes with two traditional bigs are both options (maybe even Bolomboy and Favors together). But I still think Utah's best shot at staying within striking distance is with Johnson at the 4. Those lineups have been Utah's best all year, and at least they make the Clippers defend too.
Let's be real, though. These defensive issues inside aren't going away unless Utah gets a healthy Rudy Gobert back.
LH: We're 12 quarters into this series. What's one factor (individual performance, key match-up, strategic choice) that has been a surprise to you so far?
AB: Utah being competitive without Gobert is shocking to me. I picked the Clippers in five before the series started. When Gobert went down on the first play of Game 1, I figured the Jazz wouldn't be within 10 in a single game. His rim rolls are the driving force behind Utah's offense, and his defense literally is the system on that end. The regulars who've played this series all deserve a ton of credit for playing hard and smart enough to make these games competitive.
LH: We've got at least two games left--and possibly four. What's one factor that hasn't been important so far that you think will have a big impact on the remainder of this series?
AB: This one will be wishful thinking on my part. Rodney Hood has to be better. And for the purposes of this exercise, I'll say he will be. So far this series, he's averaging just eight points in 21.3 minutes and shooting 38.9 percent from the field. In the regular season, the Jazz went 13-9 when Hood scored less than 10 points. They went 20-6 when he scored 15 or more.
With Johnson essentially playing with the starters, Hood is more or less the scorer off the bench. He has to be able to make the Clippers' backups uncomfortable for Utah to pull off this upset.
LH: Obviously Blake Griffin's injury in game 3 is a huge loss for the Clippers. How do you think it will change each teams' gameplanning?
AB: Hopefully, Blake Griffin's injury pushes Snyder to get Johnson into the game even sooner. He was a matchup problem for Griffin, but Blake's athletic enough to at least hold his own on the perimeter. If Mbah a Moute has to guard Johnson at the 4, it frees up Hayward. If it's some other big, Johnson should be able to put pressure on L.A.
The biggest factor for Utah, though, could be the injury forcing Doc Rivers into playing Paul Pierce. I, for one, don't understand why Rivers ever goes there, but he did in the second half of Game 3. And whatever position Pierce is playing, that's the one Utah should attack.
All that sounds good for the Jazz, but there's a way to spin it positively for the Clippers too. With Griffin off the floor, Paul was free to take complete control of the offense. And without Gobert (and possibly Withey), Utah is completely defenseless against the CP3/DJ pick-and-roll. If you surround that with shooters like J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford or Rivers, it's hard to imagine the Clippers losing.