Rather than despair, the Clippers say they see hope even as their season edges toward an earlier-than-expected conclusion.
Rather than gloom, the Clippers say there is some light ahead even as they sit one push away from being ejected from the playoffs by a talented and determined Utah Jazz team.
Rather than sulk about being down 3-2 in the best-of-seven series that returns to raucous Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City for Game 6 Friday night, the Clippers find solace in knowing they have overcome the same playoff odds before.
So as the loss in Game 5 began to settle in late Tuesday night, there was a testy exchange between Clippers point guard Chris Paul and a reporter about the team’s playoff future.
Paul was asked about his level of confidence of the Clippers playing a Game 7 at Staples Center on Sunday.
“What you think?” Paul responded. “I’m on the team. What you want me to say? No, it’s over. That’s what you want to hear? Yes. Come on, man. You’ve been doing this long enough. Seriously, right?”
Before the back-and-forth bantering, it was Paul who referenced the 2015 first-round playoff series the Clippers had against the San Antonio Spurs.
The Clippers lost a Game 5 at home and were on the brink of elimination when they headed to San Antonio for Game 6.
L.A. mustered up the toughness to claim the victory and tie the series at 3-3. The Clippers returned home for Game 7 and won to take the series.
For what it was worth, Paul thought back to that moment when “we had to go to a tough environment, win a game and come back home and win a Game 7.”
This difference this time is that Blake Griffin is out for the rest of the playoffs with an injury to his right big toe.
Key reserve Austin Rivers played for the first time in 10 games Tuesday night after recovering from a strained left hamstring. He admitted that his stamina is not there yet and that his game still is not back on course.
Plus, the Clippers are facing a hungry and confident Jazz group.
“We still have a lot of work to be done,” Jazz sixth-man Joe Johnson, who is averaging 18.2 points per game in the series, said late Tuesday. “We have to go home with a business mind-set and not be overconfident but confident enough. This has to be our Game 7 in Game 6.”
Added Utah coach Quin Snyder: “We know how difficult it is to win a series like this, particularly against a team like this. We still haven’t done anything yet. We’re just competing, though, and I like that.”
The Clippers have two days to process it all and come up with a game plan that can put them in position to be successful.
They’ll need someone to help Paul carry the load.
He’s playing 36.4 minutes per game in the series, the second-most on the Clippers. He’s leading the team in scoring (27.0), assists (10.4) and steals (2.0) and is third in rebounds (5.6).
Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who gave his players Wednesday off, saw the toll it was taking on Paul in Game 5.
“Without Blake in the first seven minutes [of the game], Chris is the only ball handler on the floor, and that’s too hard,” Rivers said after the game. “I thought Chris got tired early … so we’re going to have to do something about that — either put a guard in early … but we have to do something there. I thought that hurt our offense, the fact that Chris had to bring it up literally every time. So we have to make an adjustment there.”