The odds against them, the Clippers had to dig deep and make a stand in Game 6 of the Western Conference playoffs.
With all the resolve they could summon, the Clippers saved their season with a 98-93 victory over the Utah Jazz on Friday night at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
L.A. had come here having lost Game 5 at Staples Center, putting the Clippers in a 3-2 hole, the odds squarely in favor of the Jazz because the team that won the fifth game of an NBA playoff series had won the best-of-seven event 84.4% of the time.
But the Clippers staved off elimination to tie the series at 3-3, playing stellar defense and efficiently on offense to force a deciding Game 7 at Staples on Sunday afternoon.
The Clippers, who had the same record as Utah during the regular season, won the season series with the Jazz to give them the home-court advantage.
They lost the edge by falling in Game 1, but now they have earned it back after shooting 49%, including 43% on three-pointers.
“This series deserves a Game 7,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “It really does. If you think about it, right now going into Game 7, our records are identical — for the whole season, even if you count the playoffs. It was 91-91 in points [per game]. We deserve a Game 7. We got one. Now we’ve got to do something about it. We got to go play at home and play well.”
It wasn’t easy for the Clippers to close out a game they led by 10 points with 1:29 left.
After Paul missed a shot and DeAndre Jordan missed the put-back, the Jazz had one last shot.
But Joe Johnson, who had saved the Jazz all series, missed a three-pointer, the ball went out of bounds to the Clippers, and Paul (29 points) made two free throws for the final margin with 2.6 seconds left.
Jamal Crawford came alive in the second half, scoring all 12 of his points. Jordan dominated the backboards, collecting 18 rebounds to go with 13 points.
The Clippers started Austin Rivers at forward over Marreese Speights, who had started the last two games in place of the injured Blake Griffin.
Rivers (13 points) and Speights (nine) provided a lift. Luc Mbah a Moute added 13 points, six rebounds and played his usual high standard of defense.
“That was a huge testament to just our resiliency,” said Austin Rivers, who played 34 minutes. “That’s a big win for us. It’s not over yet, but we took step one of what we wanted to do. We’ve got one more step. We’ve got to show up Sunday and be ready to play.”
The biggest reason why the Clippers opened a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter was because of their defense.
They held the Jazz to 41% shooting, 26.9% from three-point range.
“We had to dig down on defense,” Jordan said. “We had some big stops on defense. And then guys like Austin, CP, Jamal, they made big shots. But they made big shots because of our defense. We were able to get stops because we had to dig down.”
The Clippers began the third quarter being sloppy, turning the ball over on their first four possessions, forcing Doc Rivers call a timeout with 9:17 left in the quarter.
“Wake up! Wake up!” Rivers yelled at his players.
They did, and now the Clippers have a Game 7 at home.