Five takeaways from the Clippers’ 97-95 loss to the Utah Jazz in their playoff opener
Joe Johnson made a shot at the buzzer and the Utah Jazz defeated the Los Angeles Clippers, 97-95, in Game 1 of a Western Conference first-round playoff series.
The Utah Jazz lost one of their best players Saturday night at Staples Center in their playoff opener. Meanwhile, the Clippers lost any mojo they had accumulated after closing the regular season with seven consecutive victories, a dispiriting 97-95 setback against the Jazz in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series, serving as the latest fodder for naysayers who believe the Clippers are destined to fail in the playoffs once again.
Here are five takeaways from the Clippers’ loss:
1. The Clippers fell to a more inspired opponent
Utah’s Rudy Gobert went down about 10 seconds into the game after bumping knees with the Clippers’ Luc Mbah a Moute, but it was the Clippers who were eventually flattened. The Jazz got step-up performances from power forward Derrick Favors (15 points, six rebounds) as well as veteran Joe Johnson, whose game-winning shot at the buzzer provided the last of his 21 points.
“I think it was very motivating considering the fact that he’s a big part of what we do, especially defensively,” Johnson said of the impact of Gobert’s injury. “You know, 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.”
By comparison, the Clippers didn’t get much of a lift from anyone beyond their usual star trio. Their bench combined for only 20 points and J.J. Redick was a virtual no-show with seven points on three-for-six shooting. Clippers center DeAndre Jordan’s 15 rebounds and 10 points were offset somewhat by a late technical foul and his inability to stop Johnson’s final shot after Jordan collided with teammate Jamal Crawford.
2. Gobert’s injury doesn’t appear to be as serious as it initially appeared
The Jazz announced after the game that the MRI on Gobert’s knee showed no ligament damage and he was diagnosed with a hyperextension as well as a bone bruise. While he may miss at least another game or two, it sounds as if there’s a possibility he could return before the end of the series.
“Me and Blake looked at each other and was like, the hell with it; we’ve got to play,” Clippers point guard Chris Paul said. “We’ve got to worry about us; know what I mean? I hope he’s OK and stuff like that, but we’ve got to worry about our team.”
3. The Clippers might want to consider going smaller if Gobert cannot return soon
But this is where the absence of guard Austin Rivers with a hamstring injury really hurts the Clippers because it decreases their defensive versatility. Rivers won’t return before Game 3 on Friday at the earliest. Nevertheless, the Clippers need to contemplate alternatives to their normal lineups after struggling to stop Utah when the Jazz used 6-foot-10 power forward Derrick Favors as their primary big man. Utah 7-footer Jeff Withey had a cameo appearance, but Favors was the player the Clippers couldn’t seem to do much about on the interior.
“They just got into the paint and dumped it off to him,” Clippers forward Blake Griffin said. “He puts the pressure on you on the offensive glass. … We’ve got to be better, low-man help and all that.”
Jazz forward Joe Johnson celebrates his game-winning basket at the buzzer against the Clippers.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Jazz forward Joe Johnson lofts the game-winning shot over Clippers center DeAndre Jordan as time runs out in Game 1.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Clippers forward Blake Griffin scores two of his 20 points in the first half against Jazz forward Derrick Favors.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Clippers center DeAndre Jordan loses the ball out of bounds while being defended by Jazz forward Derrick Flavors during the fourth quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Clippers forward Marreese Speights is fouled by Jazz guard Shelvin Mack during the fourth quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Jazz guard tries to steal the ball from Clippers forward Blake Griffin as he power his way to the basket during the fourth quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Clippers guard J.J. Redick attempts a pass between Jazz forwards Derrick Flavors, left, and Boris Diaw during the first quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Jazz forward Joe Johnson scores over Clippers big me DeAndre Jordan, left, and Blake Griffin during the second quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Jazz center Rudy Gobert goes down because of a knee injury in the early minutes of the first quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Clippers point guard Chris Paul and Jazz forward Gordon Hayward collide while chasing a loose ball during the first quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (6) battles Jazz forward Gordon Hayward for a rebound during the first quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Going small would entail fewer lineups with both Griffin and Jordan on the court at the same time, which has its drawbacks as well as its benefits. The Clippers’ bench also does not have a designated stopper on the perimeter with Rivers out. Their effort and focus defensively needs to be better regardless of who’s on the court.
4. Johnson was the ageless wonder
The 35-year-old has averaged single digits in scoring with the Jazz for the first time since the 2002-03 season, but he was sprightly with 21 points off the bench on nine-for-14 shooting, including the latest game winner of his 16-year career.
“Just being patient, man,” Johnson said of his approach with buzzer beaters. “In those moments of the game, guys are not going to help. It’s kind of like you’re on an island by yourself and they expect for you to get that stop. Nobody wants to man the score, so I just try to be patient, get to a sweet spot and make the right play.”
5. Losing the opener of a playoff series at home may not be all that significant for the Clippers
The last three times the Clippers have held home court advantage in a playoff series, they went 2-1 in Game 1s. The only time they went on to lose the series was when they won the first two games at Staples Center against the Portland Trail Blazers last season. So dropping the opener against the Jazz may not be all that meaningful.
The Clippers also dropped their playoff opener against the Golden State Warriors in 2014 before rebounding to win the series in seven games. In 2015, they beat the San Antonio Spurs at home in Game 1 and won the series in seven games. So there’s not much definitive to be said about the impact of Saturday’s loss besides universal disappointment among the Clippers.
“It sucks that we lost,” Paul said, “and to tell you the truth, we’ve sucked pretty bad here at home here in the playoffs anyway, know what I mean? We lost, I think, most of the series, the home games. Now we’ve got to see what we’re made of.”
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