In a tense, taut and trash-talking game with playoff consequences, the Clippers got blitzed by an avalanche of Utah three-pointers Monday night, essentially dooming them in a 114-108 loss to the Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
Two skirmishes in this game, between Clippers guard J.J. Redick and Jazz center Rudy Gobert and then between Chris Paul and Gobert, could be the genesis of a contentious playoff series if both teams continue on course toward an increasingly likely first-round matchup.
The Clippers, fifth in the Western Conference, had won nine consecutive games in Salt Lake City, and the ending of that streak on Monday dropped them two games behind the fourth-place Jazz.
When the teams meet for the last time in the regular season on March 25 at Staples Center, it’ll be another significant encounter. The Clippers lead the season series, 2-1.
“We play them again,” said Paul, who had 33 points, seven assists and six rebounds. “So we both got a lot more games. We could drop, they could drop. We could go up. I’m sure ya’ll [will] probably ask that question again when we play them. I don’t know what this means. It means they beat us tonight. They played a good game. They got us, and we’ll see.”
The game began to unravel for the Clippers in the third quarter, when they gave up 40 points after leading at the half, 56-49.
They were done in when the Jazz made 10 consecutive three-point shots spanning the third and fourth quarters.
“They didn’t feel us,” Paul said of Utah’s open three-point looks. “They were just coming off naked. They were putting us in rotations. They were getting whatever they wanted.”
As the Jazz’s lead began to reach a level the Clippers couldn’t quite get to in the fourth, that’s when scuffles broke out.
First Redick and Gobert got entangled, leading to the 7-foot-1 Jazz center getting hit with a technical foul.
Then with 22.7 seconds left, Paul and Gobert got into it. Replays showed Paul shoving Gobert in the back. The two jostled, ending with Paul getting a technical foul. Gobert pointed at the scoreboard, which showed the Jazz up by nine points.
“It was a tech on me. Just a little tussle,” Paul said. “I ain’t worried about him. He just talks a lot. He can play, but he just talk a lot.”
Both teams have 15 regular-season games left, making a postseason encounter that much more likely. For the Clippers, that means assigning a scout to shadow the Jazz soon.
“I know statistically there’s a great chance we’re going to play them so you start watching them more,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. “They’re watching us more. In about five games, we’ll send someone to just travel with them. . . . He’s going to go to every game, that’s what they’ll do back, and you try to pick up stuff.“