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2017 NBA Playoffs First Round: Clippers-Jazz Game 4 Preview

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The entire calculus of this series may have shifted again with the Blake Griffin injury.

NBA: Playoffs-Los Angeles Clippers at Utah Jazz Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Picture

Losing Blake Griffin may have effectively snuffed out the Clippers’ slim hopes of seriously challenging the Warriors in the second round, but the first round matchup with the Utah Jazz is still very much theirs for the taking. That being said, winning this series is now even more of an uphill battle, and it could go the distance unless the Clippers are able to steal another one on the road.

In that sense, Game 4 may now be only a few rungs on the ladder down from a must-win. The longer this series goes on, the tougher it becomes for the Clippers because of the increased workload Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan now face, and the overall age of the rest of the rotation. In addition, going six or seven games increases the chances of Rudy Gobert returning and shifting the balance of the series again. Even if he’s not nearly 100%, he’s still a vast improvement over the decrepit Boris Diaw and the clearly hobbled Derrick Favors.

The Clippers proved in Game 3 that they could win on the road without their second-best player, overcoming a double-digit second-half deficit to pull out the 111-106 victory. The comeback, highlighted by a 15-0 run in the 4th quarter, was nothing short of a Point God miracle, especially considering how much it felt like Utah was dominating the game most of the way.

The Antagonist

While Gordon Hayward and George Hill were stupendous offensively in Game 3, the Jazz struggled to find contributions from the rest of their roster. Joe Johnson came alive in the fourth quarter, but he was the only other Utah player to score double digits on Friday night.

“Role players show up at home” is one of those time-honored playoff maxims, but it wasn’t the case in Game 3. In fact, it was the Clippers’ supporting cast who came through, led by Luc Mbah a Moute’s 15 points and several massive offensive rebounds. Raymond Felton also showed up, playing his best game in quite some time, while Marreese Speights also made a positive impact in his time on the floor.

The Clippers may not be able to rely on those sort of performances tonight, but they’ll need to find another rabbit in their hat if they want to win and go up 3-1. Meanwhile, they have to hope that whatever improvements Utah gets from their role players isn’t enough to offset Hayward and Hill regressing to the mean.

The x-factor tonight, as always, will be Jamal Crawford, who struggled for three quarters before going 3-5 in the 4th and making a positive impact for the first time all series.

Another key to keep your eyes on — how Chris Paul balances scoring and distributing in the second half. What he did in Game 3 was actually the same thing he did in Game 1 and received criticism for, as he put up 24 points compared to only 3 assists in the second half (13 points/0 assists in the final quarter). However, it worked for him and the Clippers this time around.

The Breakdown

Time: April 23, 2017 — 6:00 PM (PST)
Place: Vivint Smart Home Arena — Salt Lake City, Utah
TV: TNT, Prime Ticket
Radio: AM 570 Sports

Adithya

Injury Report: Rudy Gobert has been upgraded to DOUBTFUL for Game 4, while Alec Burks and Austin Rivers remain OUT.

UPDATE:

The starting lineups are still in flux for both teams; with Blake out, Utah may embrace going small with Joe Johnson from the jump, which could mean... *gulp* Paul Pierce in the starting lineup once again (even though Wes Johnson may be the clear-cut better option on both ends of the floor at this point).

It remains to be seen whether the bench rotation changes at all for the Clippers. Could WeJo or Brandon Bass see more time off the pine tonight? On the Jazz side, early rumblings seem to be that Clipper killer Raul Neto will get more run at backup point over Shelvin Mack, while backup center Jeff Withey may re-enter the rotation after picking up a DNP in Game 3.

Adithya

The Prediction

In the words of the immortal 1999 film Galaxy Quest, “Never give up [hope in the Clippers], never surrender [your faith in Chris Paul]!” The full line wasn’t in the theatrical release due to editing for time constraints, but trust me, that was how it appeared in the original script. In the Point God, all things are possible.

Clippers 102, Jazz 99.