Utah Jazz forward Joe Johnson (left) is mobbed by teammates after scoring the winning basket with no time remaining in Game One of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs against the LA Clippers at Staples Center. The Jazz won 97-95. Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
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The Los Angeles Clippers lost the opening game of their first-round series to the Utah Jazz. However, the Jazz unfortunately lost Rudy Gobert to an injury early in the game. With that in mind, here are five takeaways as to how the Clippers can recover and win the series.
The Clippers came into the series having taken the season series 3-1, in addition to having won 18 of their previous 20 matchups. That advantage became even more severe when the Jazz lost Rudy Gobert to injury on the first play of the game.
Nobody would have knocked the Jazz for rolling over without their defensive anchor. Instead, they pieced together a 97-95 victory, capped off by a Joe Johnson buzzer-beater.
The loss was certainly a blow to the Clippers, as they had every right to assume the game was theirs for the taking. They will have some time before Game 2 on Tuesday night to regroup and figure out what went wrong. In the meantime, here are five takeaways for how the Clippers could turn the series around as they prepare for their next showdown.
Apr 15, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; LA Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) shoots a jump shot to tie the score 95-95 in Game One of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs against the Utah Jazz at Staples Center. Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
1. Chris Paul Still Needs To Shoot More
Chris Paul nearly sent this game into overtime with the clutch shot pictured above. While he will not get any shine after Joe Johnson responded with a buzzer-beater, Paul nonetheless put together a masterful performance.
Chris Paul ended the night with 25 points on 10-of-19 shooting, 11 assists, seven rebounds and three steals against just one turnover. However, his overall stat line does not tell the full story. Paul scored 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting in the fourth quarter with no assists as he carried the Clippers’ offense down the stretch. He nearly outscored the rest of the Clippers combined in the period, as Los Angeles actually outscored Utah 25-23 in the final frame.
The team tends to perform better when Paul looks to score, and that held to form in this game. Paul is an efficient and effective scorer, even with an elite defender like George Hill hounding him on every possession. Paul will need to try to put points up before the end of the game for the Clippers to take control of this series.
LA Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) dribbles on the baseline on Utah Jazz center Boris Diaw (33) in the first quarter in Game One of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center. Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
2. Blake Griffin Will Have To Be More Consistent
Blake Griffin looked ready to carry the Los Angeles Clippers after a brilliant first half. He took full advantage of the absence of Rudy Gobert locking down the paint. Barring his first shot (a 17-foot jumper), all of his makes were either in the paint or behind the arc. Blake finished the first half with 20 points and repeatedly bowled over a clearly outclassed Boris Diaw.
The second half was quite different for the star forward. Diaw appeared to have a better handle on Griffin, and Derrick Favors did a better job of protecting the rim. Griffin made just two of his eight field goal attempts, including a dismal 2-of-6 near the basket. He completely disappeared in the fourth quarter, taking just two shots and missing both, but adding two points at the free throw line.
While throwing the ball to Chris Paul and telling him to score is an effective strategy, Blake has to be more involved in the offense than he was in the second half last night–especially with Gobert out. The Clippers will be far better off if he could spread his 26 points out over the whole game, instead of limiting his aggression to the first half.
Apr 15, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Utah Jazz forward Joe Johnson (6) drives to the basket between LA Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) and guard Jamal Crawford (11) to score the winning basket with no time remaining in Game One of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center. Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
3. The Bench Has To Step Up Their Game
People will remember that Joe Johnson once again pulled out a buzzer-beater for a playoff victory. People might forget that his basket was all but guaranteed when Jamal Crawford was forced to guard him. Johnson drove past Crawford without much resistance, in what has become a common thread for the Clippers this season.
After a torrid start to the year, the Clippers’ bench has been dragging them down all season. That problem was exacerbated by Austin Rivers’ injury. Rivers was arguably the best defender on that bench unit in addition to providing a scoring punch. His absence was notable on both ends of the floor.
The Jazz bench outscored the Clippers bench 47-20. While 15 of those Jazz bench points came from Derrick Favors (who basically replaced Gobert as the starting center 17 seconds into the game and started the second half), that disparity was undeniably the difference in this game. Joe Johnson personally outscored the Clippers’ bench, 21-20.
While the Los Angeles bench mob might never live up to their success in the first 15 games, they will need to put on a better showing on Tuesday night. The starting lineup might be fantastic, but even they cannot make up a 27-point deficit on their own.
Los Angeles, CA, USA; Utah Jazz guard George Hill (3) drives to the basket past LA Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (6) during the first quarter in Game One of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
4. The Clippers Must Play At Their Own Pace
The Los Angeles Clippers are nobody’s idea of a run-and-gun team. They play at basically a league-average pace — 16th in the league per Basketball-Reference, with an estimated 96.1 possessions per 48 minutes.
However, they are definitely a run-and-gun team compared to the Utah Jazz. Utah has the slowest offense in the league by far, with an estimated 91.6 possessions per 48 minutes.
Although home teams are usually supposed to dictate the tempo, this game’s pace was controlled by the Jazz. The game was played at a pace of 91.9 possessions per 48 minutes, according to Basketball-Reference.
Although the Clippers did win two slower games against the Jazz early this season, they can and should look to push the pace against Utah — especially after Rudy Gobert’s injury.
Apr 15, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; LA Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (6) dunks during the first quarter in Game One of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs against the Utah Jazz at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
5. The Clippers Should Attack The Basket As Much As Possible
The most recent medical update on Rudy Gobert did not reveal any ligament damage. Thus, it is possible (though unlikely) that he will be able to return before the end of this series. Even if he does return eventually, being ready for Game 2 seems exceedingly unlikely.
With Gobert out, the Clippers need to attack the basket as much as possible. He is arguably the league’s best interior defender, and the Clippers have the right players in DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin to take advantage of Gobert’s absence.
The Clippers made 15 of their 23 shots in the restricted area in Game 1, a stellar 65.2 percent mark. However, they offset that efficiency by taking 24 midrange shots–and making just eight of them. While Derrick Favors is a solid rim protector in his own right, the Clippers need to prioritize scoring inside now that they have a decided advantage down low.
The injury to Gobert makes the Los Angeles Clippers the favorites in this series. With him out, they will have multiple ways to attack Utah and turn the tide in this series. After a tough loss in the first game, this series may depend on the results of Game 2. Although they cannot afford to underestimate the Jazz, there are plenty of positive signs that the Clippers can and will regain control of this matchup and advance to the second round.