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.
Clippers guard J.J. Redick protects the ball from the reach of Jazz forward Joe Ingles during the first half.(Gene Sweeney Jr. / Getty Images)
Clippers forward Luc Mbah a Moute and Jazz forward Joe Ingles battle for a rebound during the first half.(Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)
Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) drives around Jazz forward Boris Diaw (on knee) and guard George Hill during the first half.(Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)
Jazz center Rudy Gobert powers his way to the basket against Clippers center DeAndre Jordan during the first half.(Gene Sweeney Jr. / Getty Images)
Clippers guard Jamal Crawford looks to pass after recovering a loose ball during the second half.(Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)
Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) loses control of the the ball as he’s defended by Clippers forward Luc Mbah a Moute, left, and guard Chris Paul during the second half.(Gene Sweeney Jr. / Getty Images)
Clippers guards Austin Rivers (25) and Raymond Felton celebrate after a key basket late in the game against the Jazz.(Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)
Clippers guard Jamal Crawford receives congratulations from Clippers coach Doc Rivers near the end of Game 6.(Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)
Coach Doc Rivers acknowledges some Clippers fans as he heads off the court after the Game 6 win over the Jazz.(Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)
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.
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.