A critical moment arrived sooner than the Clippers expected, putting the team in a tenuous state that required an urgent response Tuesday night in Game 2 of its Western Conference playoff series.
So it was essential that the Clippers answer what had become a tough call, which they did by grinding out a 99-91 win over the Utah Jazz at Staples Center to ensure the best-of-seven first-round series did not reach a dire point.
“We had to win tonight. We wanted to win the first game, but we didn’t,” said center DeAndre Jordan, who got the Clippers off to a great start by scoring 10 of his 18 points in the first quarter. “We just take each day a game at a time, and just play, man. We can’t go back and fix it so we just got to go with it and worry about Game 3.”
Losing the first game here, and home-court advantage in the process, meant it was imperative for the Clippers to even the series 1-1.
Now they will hit the road and attempt to reclaim home court, beginning with Game 3 Friday night in Salt Lake City. Game 4 will also be in Utah.
“It’s a great arena,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said about the Jazz’s home court. “It’s one of the few basketball arenas. They are sitting right on top of you. The fans are terrific there. And the noise is not going to be for you.
“Having said that, I’ve never seen a fan block a shot or get a steal. So at the end of the day, it’s going to be only 10 guys out on the floor. You just got to keep your composure and your trust.”
Chris Paul did yeoman work to make sure the Clippers didn’t fall into a hole, scoring seven of his 21 points in the fourth quarter. He also had 10 assists and played his customary strong defense, getting three steals.
His pass for a Blake Griffin three-pointer increased the Clippers’ lead to nine points late in the game. Then Paul stole the ball from George Hill on the next possession to basically seal the game for the Clippers.
“He was good through adversity, which I thought was really good,” Rivers said about Paul, who had three fouls in the first half that forced him to the bench. “He got in foul trouble early. And we weathered that storm as a team. . . . I thought it never threw him off.”
Paul had more than enough help this time around. Griffin scored 24 points and Jordan had 15 rebounds before he fouled out with 52.2 seconds left.
The Clippers had a better flow on offense, making 52.4% of their shots.
“We had two days of being [upset],” Griffin said. “It’s never fun coming in and watching film after that Game 1 loss. We had a good practice [Monday]. I thought our spirit was great.”
The Clippers took good care of the basketball, turning it over just 11 times.
And they made Utah All-Star Gordon Hayward work for his 20 points, holding him to five-for-15 shooting.
Joe Johnson, who hit game-winning shot for the Jazz in Game 1, had 13 points, but he was just six for 15 from the field.
“I know that we feel good,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “It’s hard to feel good after a game. If you step back and we’d have lost the first game and won tonight, we’d probably feel good. It’s 1-1, just kind of what it is.”
From the start, the Clippers made sure they instigated the action, on offense and defense. And this time they took advantage of Jazz center Rudy Gobert’s absence due to a hyperextended and bruised left knee, regularly going inside to big men Jordan and Griffin in the first half.
“We won so I would say we responded,” Rivers said. “I liked our physicality tonight and theirs too. It was a physical game. We had 60 points in the paint and only eight free throws.”
Follow Broderick Turner on Twitter @BA_Turner