Advertisement

Column: It’s a fresh postseason but Clippers give a stale effort in Game 1 loss to shorthanded Jazz

The raucous Staples Center was filled by roaring fans wearing T-shirts that read, “It Takes Everything.’’

These being the Clippers, and this being the playoffs, even that wasn’t enough.

In their postseason opener against the Utah Jazz on Saturday night at Staples Center, the Clippers were given everything and lost.

They were handed the game in the first 10 seconds, and spent the next two hours giving it back.

Advertisement

They benefitted from a major Utah injury, a powerful home crowd, a game-tying tying bank shot by Chris Paul in the final seconds, and still didn’t get it done.

They were given everything and wound up with nothing, in the shape of a 97-95 loss on a buzzer-beating floater by Joe Johnson.

“It was kind of a struggle to find our footing,’’ said a quiet Jamal Crawford after being beaten by Johnson’s drive down the lane for the winner.

No, sadly, this is their exact footing. This is how they stand. This is what they do. For the last five springs, this is how this team has rolled — and been rolled — with three of the most exciting players in the game producing some of this town’s most disappointing sports moments.

Advertisement

We’ve seen this against Houston. We’ve seen this against Oklahoma City. We’ve seen this so much the team has become defined by the sight, which reappeared Saturday with Paul screaming, and Griffin muttering, and DeAndre Jordan trudging.

This probably being the last ride for that trio — and with the Clippers ending the regular season with a seven-game winning streak — some thought this spring might be different.

At first-game glance, think again.

“We didn’t play great,’’ said Coach Doc Rivers, a regular-season orator who has become the master of the postseason understatement.

Advertisement

You know who actually did struggle to find their footing? Rudy Gobert, the Jazz’s leading rebounder and third-leading scorer who has missed only one game all season. He crumpled to the court in the first 10 seconds after knocking knees with Clippers forward Luc Mbah a Moute.

Gobert, one of the best shot-blockers in the game, required teammates to drag him to the bench. He was initially diagnosed with a sprained knee, he was placed in an MRI machine somewhere during the second half, and it would be surprising to see him on the court again in the next couple of weeks.

“We took a hit,’’ said the Jazz’s ancient Boris Diaw.

But somehow, instead of being deflated with Gobert’s departure, the Jazz were inspired. In other words, they were everything the Clippers were not.

Advertisement

“I think we felt and knew that a lot of people probably were counting us out when he went down, but man, we stuck together, fought hard for 48 minutes,’’ said Johnson.

And man, once again, the Clippers didn’t stick together, and didn’t fight hard enough.

“We’ve got to be better,’’ said Paul, who scored 25, including a dozen points in the fourth quarter. “You know, they played harder. They were more physical.’’

Advertisement

How could that be? Knowing what is at stake for the future of a team that could lose Paul, Griffin and J.J. Redick to free agency, how could the Clippers not play harder than everyone during what could be their last spring together?

“It ain’t great, obviously,’’ said Paul. “Now we’ve got to see what we’re made of.’’

Just watching Saturday’s meltdown, during which the 15-turnover Clippers sloppily fell behind late in the third quarter and never led again, one could only surmise that they are still entirely composed of the worst three words in the team’s dictionary.

Same Old Clippers.

Advertisement

Start with Jordan, who didn’t see the ball nearly enough after Gobert’s injury, taking only seven shots, and doesn’t this team always seem to have trouble finding him when he’s most needed?

Compounding Jordan’s offensive inaction was his complaining that led to a damaging technical foul with 4:20 left in the fourth quarter and the Clippers trailing by six. Of course Gordon Hayward made the free throw, the Clippers bad behavior never seems to go unpunished.

“We have a rule, no fourth-quarter techs, and he got one,’’ said Rivers. “It makes a difference, they really do. Like our emotions and our frustration, that’s got to be something we have to control.’’

Then there was Griffin, whose game-high 26 points were overshadowed by another playoff fourth quarter in which he completely disappeared. He missed both of his shots from the field after making six earlier turnovers, several when losing the ball on drives to the basket.

Advertisement

“Turnovers, mainly myself,’’ said Griffin when asked what went wrong. “It’s tough to win a game when you turn the ball over so much.’’

Then there was the Clippers’ defense, which made the Jazz look like the San Antonio Spurs with perfect executed play after play after play. Where was the help? This is going to sound like something from a youth-league handbook, but where was the teamwork?

“I just thought they scored easier than I would like, and that’s just my visual watching the game,’’ said Rivers.

That was surely everyone’s visual who watched the game, visions that grow truly terrifying when realizing exactly what this loss could mean for the Clippers’ immediate future.

Advertisement

Without having to face Gobert, the Clippers should still be favored to win the series. There’s six more games beginning Tuesday night at Staples Center, and the Clippers should still be favored to win four of them. But what does the lengthening of what should have been a short series do for their health and energy in the next round against the Golden State Warriors? That is, of course, if they even advance that far.

Before Saturday’s final stirring sequence, the Staples Center video juiced up the crowd by showing Kurt Russell’s pep-talk scene from “Miracle.’’

Then, somehow, the short-handed, outmanned, overwhelmed Jazz raced down the court and won the game.

These being the Clippers, and this being the playoffs, it was no miracle.

Advertisement

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

Get more of Bill Plaschke’s work and follow him on Twitter @BillPlaschke


Advertisement
Advertisement