A banging of knees and a win at the buzzer in Game 1 of the series went a long way to summing up the whole season for the Utah Jazz.
If Game 1 of the Utah Jazz first round playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers did anything, it summed up the 2016-17 season for those that haven’t kept up with basketball in Utah.
Depleted by injury, the Jazz fight harder than any team in the league and consistently win games they really shouldn’t. The fact they were even in this game toward the end was on the back of a monumental team effort, but to win it 97-95 at the buzzer was a just reward for a team that never quits.
As the team that has allowed the most losses as a result of injuries to key players, it should come as no surprise the Jazz again had to deal with adversity on the night their team was the healthiest it’s been in months.
Arguably their best player and legitimate Defensive Player of the Year contender, Rudy Gobert is the key to any success the Jazz might have in the postseason.
Game 1 was 17 seconds long for Gobert, as in the first possession of his playoff career, he banged knees with Luc Mbah a Moute and needed to be carried off the court.
Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert injures knee on first possession of Game 1 between Jazz, Clippers.
For most teams, a capitulation ensues. The excuse for the post-game interview is already primed and ready to go. All they need to do is go through the paces, finish the game and collect their cheque.
The Jazz don’t work that way.
Gobert’s teammates responded with a performance that puts them in the box-seat for this series, should Gobert return to somewhat full strength.
Joe Johnson summed up the game postmatch but in doing so, recapped the 51 wins they accumulated throughout the regular season, telling ESPN:
“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, we had ups and downs, but at the end of the day we came out with a win.”
“He” could have been a reference to almost anyone in the squad this season. At times it seemed like everyone was falling over, but the Jazz fought back all season – tonight no different to the other 51 times they’ve won since October.
Gobert’s matchup with DeAndre Jordan was one that might have defined this series, and while the Jazz were able to put up a valiant effort without their emotional, shot-blocking, low-post leader, it’s unlikely to be repeated three more times in six games.
The Clippers are too good and too experienced to let the Jazz keep up the small-ball dominance – particularly Joe Johnson and his 21 points – that was their downfall in Game 1.
The Clippers won’t make the same mistake again, with most expecting an aggressive rebuttal when Game 2 tips off. If Gobert can get out onto the court, the Jazz are all of a sudden favorites to win the series, but if he doesn’t, their lack of interior defense might prove too much to overcome, despite the early 1-0 series lead.