I’ll be honest, this was unexpected for me.
I came into this game with a similar amount of dread as I did for Game 6 against the Blazers last year. Yeah, we have Chris Paul this time around, but looking at a healthy Jazz team in Game 5 I could not help but feel that the winning team in that game was decidedly better than the losing team. As much as Paul has been the best player in the series, it did not feel enough to beat this healthy Jazz team.
That might not be the case.
The Los Angeles Clippers scored a gutty 98-93 win over the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City to tie this series at 3-3. Chris Paul, as always, led the way but was complemented by some timely hoops by an array of Clippers. While Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gobert, and George Hill all had quality games, the Jazz production slipped quite a bit after that, including from their X-Factor, Joe Johnson.
Doc Rivers came out of Game 5 bemoaning the fact that Paul tired himself out handling the ball, and he adjusted by starting Austin Rivers alongside Paul tonight. Throughout the game Doc did well to make sure Paul had at least another one of the Clipper guards to help give him a break bringing the ball up the floor, mixing and matching between Rivers, Raymond Felton, and Jamal Crawford.
The Jazz did initially seem bigger than the Clippers to start the game, and Boris Diaw even did well to facilitate the offense, scoring and making some nice passes early in the game. Utah jumped out to a 22-13 lead, but timely buckets from Marreese Speights and Luc Mbah a Moute kept them within reach, with the Clippers only being behind 20-22 at the end of the first quarter.
Speights continued his solid play going into the 2nd quarter and Clippers even grabbed a lead. The Jazz got some unanswered buckets but Paul came back to keep the Clippers close, either directly or by getting his teammates wide open looks. The Clippers managed to snag the lead back on two DeAndre Jordan free throws and went into the half up 47-45.
Both teams started the 2nd half very sluggishly, highlighted by 4 particularly sloppy Jordan turnovers. Halfway through the 3rd, the Jazz had a 59-56 lead on a Gobert bucket, but the Clippers started to get rolling. Paul Pierce (!) hit a big three, Chris Paul got 3 foul shots, and then Crawford got going, hitting timely buckets and finding Jordan for an easy dunk. CP3 hit a three and the Clippers found themselves up by 11 in the 3rd quarter, only to close the third up 78-70.
As you can imagine, a lead like this in a game with stakes this high did not feel comfortable. The Clippers went up 80-70 immediately in the 4th thanks to Crawford.
.@JCrossover starts the 4th off for the squad!#ItTakesEverything pic.twitter.com/Y4WNSdXHwC— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) April 29, 2017
It felt like they had a couple of big miscues that could have helped put the game further out of reach. Pierce had a three pointer that went as in and out as you can imagine, Jordan missed a chance for an easy dunk, and Raul Neto hit a three pointer off an offensive rebound that made me feel like the Clippers might have missed their chance to really build a cushion in this game. Fortunately for the Clippers, the Jazz were having a problem making shots all night, and the Clippers continued to get big buckets from not only Paul, but the whole supporting cast. Rivers hit a couple of massive threes, one to put the Clippers up 14 at 91-77 and and then Paul did this:
CP3 ➡️ rack.— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) April 29, 2017
Q4 1:29 | LAC 96 | UTA 86 pic.twitter.com/VDghpGMUhC
A following Austin triple put the team up 96-86 with a minute and a half going, but Clipper fans know that’s plenty of time.
Paul made us all remember that awful Game 5 against OKC with a turnover for a Hayward breakaway dunk and another off an early pass to J.J. Redick. Paul jumped about as high as he could have to try and control a missed Hayward jumper, but Joe Ingles (of course) got a crucial tap to Hayward for a three that made it a one possession game at 96-93. After Paul missed a tough shot to try and put the Clippers up multiple possessions, Joe Johnson got the ball with the game in his hands again, but this time DeAndre Jordan stepped up and made him take a very difficult three pointer that missed. A couple of Paul free throws later, and there was your final score. The Clippers made sure to make it dramatic, and Paul said as much after the game, but somehow they come out of Utah alive and going home for Game 7.
-Jordan played fairly conservative on a lot of pick and rolls the Jazz had on the perimeter, choosing to stay and protect the paint and give Utah a handful of good looks from the perimeter or from midrange. It paid off tonight, and guys were able to stay with their guys defensively a good chunk of the night. Sometimes double teams were merited, like when Joe Johnson had Crawford on a switch, but the Clippers did a good job with their rotations tonight. Still, the Jazz had their share of open looks just because this team is great at moving the ball, and the Clippers dodged their share of bullets.
-Austin Rivers really reminded us what he’s meant to this team all year, with some huge, timely shots especially from distance. Rivers also provided some quality defense on Hayward, allowing the Prince to guard Joe Johnson down the stretch. Hayward had 31 points, but he worked for them. Austin hit 3 big triples and finished with 13.
-Rudy Gobert twisted his ankle in the 3rd quarter, came back, but could not finish the game tonight. He played well but was notably slowed with his mobility when he came back after the ankle twist. This of course will be worth monitoring going into Game 7.
-Crawford, Luc, and Speights were all huge tonight. Speights did not play much in the second half but he was an offensive lifeline for the Clippers when Utah was feeling the crowd and could have run away with the game early. Luc again did well taking what the defense gave him, but he hit shots reminiscent to how he hit them in Game 3. Crawford was huge in the second half. Those shots to keep the team afloat are so big, and that stretch Jamal had was one of the more memorable ones he’s had as a Clipper. His statline looks pedestrian but Jamal lead the team with a +19 +/-.
-Jordan needed to put his stamp on the game after starting the second half sluggishly, and I thought he did well after those quick turnovers. He was all over the glass and even though he missed a lot of free throws, he played better as the game went on. He finished with 13 and 18.
-Pierce played a lot tonight and the Clippers got away with it. Pierce is smart and you know he knows what he needs to do, but I still hate that he plays so much. His body is just trailing his mind way too much. I guess the alternatives are rough, but I’m terrified of Pierce costing us big in Game 7.
-CP3 felt aggressive from the onset in this game, even if he didn’t put his foot on their throats to close. He finished with his usual hyper efficient line of 29 points on 50% shooting, 8 assists, and 2 steals. We might need him to close a bit better in this next one.
Game 7 will be at 12:30pm. See you Sunday. (clap clap clapclapclap)