But a roadblock already has been placed in front of them, the short-handed Utah Jazz pulling out a stunning 97-95 victory on Joe Johnson’s last second-shot in Game 1 of the Western Conference playoffs at Staples Center on Saturday night.
The Clippers walked off the court having lost the home-court advantage, falling into a 1-0 hole in the best-of-seven series. Game 2 is Tuesday night.
“You lose the first game and obviously you want to win all your home games,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “We fought until the end of the year to get it and now we’ve given it right back. It’s Game 1. Give them credit.”
Chris Paul, who had 25 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds, had tied the score on a runner with 13.1 seconds to play.
The Jazz didn’t call timeout and put the ball into the hands of Johnson, who drove around Jamal Crawford and threw up a floater that bounced twice on the heel of the rim and went down as the clock struck zero. Johnson finished with a team-high 21 points off the bench.
“What we did was have a player that made a play,” Jazz Coach Quin Snyder said.
The Clippers’ plan of not getting a technical foul fell on deaf ears when DeAndre Jordan was called for one with 4:29 left, putting the Clippers in an 88-81 hole after Gordon Hayward (19 points) made the free throw.
But with Paul taking the controls, the Clippers moved to within 90-89.
The Jazz answered with baskets by Hayward and Johnson, who made a runner for a 94-89 Jazz lead, forcing the Clippers to call a timeout with 1:09 remaining.
J.J. Redick scored on a driving layup.
Then after Johnson turned the ball over, Blake Griffin (26 points) made two free throws after he was fouled to pull the Clippers to within 94-93 with 23.3 seconds left.
The Clippers fouled Derrick Favors, a career 66.4% free-throw shooter. Favors made one of two free throws for a 95-93 Jazz lead with 18.7 seconds left.
Jazz defensive savant center Rudy Gobert, who led the NBA in blocked shots, went down on the first play of the game with a left knee sprain. Gobert, who banged knees with Luc Mbah a Moute, didn’t return after playing just 11 seconds. He was taken to get an MRI for precautionary reasons, the Jazz said in the third quarter.
But the Jazz still held up, despite missing one of their best players, showing how tough Utah has been all season when hit by injuries.
Johnson came off the bench to give the Jazz a lift, scoring 14 points in the first half, going six for eight from the field.
“I thought they played well under adverse conditions with Gobert going down,” Rivers said. “In some ways that helped them. They got small and stretched the floor, which hurt us a little bit.”
Said Jordan: “We got to try to figure this out. I think we need to step up our urgency around here. We can’t take teams for granted, leads for granted, whatever it is.”