“Boy, we had our chance,” Rivers said, shaking his head late Sunday night at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
His players were exasperated about how this game had transpired toward the end, when they were unable to contain 35-year-old Joe Johnson.
They were disturbed by their inability to take advantage of a big break when Jazz All-Star forward Gordon Hayward could play only 9 minutes 12 seconds because of food poisoning.
They were troubled by having let the tone of the game change late in the fourth quarter after positioning themselves to pull out a win without Blake Griffin, who is sidelined the rest of the playoffs with an injury to his right big toe.
The solace the Clippers were able to find was that they still reclaimed the home-court advantage with the series now tied at 2-2, thanks to their Game 3 victory Friday night.
They just felt that Game 5 at Staples Center on Tuesday night could have had a different meaning if they had won this game.
“We wanted to be 3-1,” Rivers said. “But, we’re happy we’re 2-2. We’ll take it. We came in here and we got one win. We had a great opportunity tonight, too, though.”
Johnson put an end to all that thinking with his stellar play in the fourth quarter, when he scored 13 of his game-high 28 points, defying the Clippers’ attempts to guard him. He was five for seven from the field in the fourth, 12 for 17 for the game.
“I remember the last game CP [Chris Paul] really putting his stamp on the game toward the end,” Johnson said. “I wanted us to return the favor.”
Johnson scored 11 straight points during one stretch in the fourth quarter, his 11-foot floater putting the Jazz ahead 91-90 — and for good, it turned out, the Clippers never catching up.
“Joe, he’s unbelievable with his pace and knowing how to get to his spots,” Paul said. “We’ve just got to make it tougher on him.”
Paul had been the orchestrator for the Clippers, producing 27 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds. Sixth man Jamal Crawford contributed 25 points to help compensate for the absence of Griffin, the team’s leading scorer.
They helped the Clippers open an 87-80 lead in the fourth, swinging the momentum in their favor.
“Yeah, we let that one get away,” Paul said. “We came here to get back home court, had an opportunity to get two, but it is what it is. Now we got to go back and protect home court.”all it that.”
The fourth quarter was a disaster for the Clippers, offensively and defensively. They shot just 31.3% from the field and were one for eight on three-point shots.
The Jazz, meanwhile, shredded the L.A. defense, shooting 71.4% in the fourth.
The Jazz got one of their stars back when center Rudy Gobert, who suffered a knee injury in Game 1, returned with 15 points and 13 rebounds. But Utah lost its biggest name when Hayward, its leading scorer, couldn’t continue playing even after being hooked up to an IV most of day on Sunday. He left the game with 8:42 left in the second quarter and never returned.
“It definitely was a missed opportunity, especially with Hayward being out for the majority of the game and us having the lead ... there in the fourth,” the Clippers’ J.J. Redick said. “Yeah, it was a missed opportunity. C