April 18, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) moves the ball against Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward (20), guard George Hill (3) and forward Derrick Favors (15) during the second half in game two of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
The Utah Jazz fell to 1-1 in their first round playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers. Where should they look to improve going forward?
After stealing Game 1 on a buzzer-beater, the Utah Jazz fell short of taking two games in a row on the road in their first round playoff series, succumbing to the Los Angeles Clippers by a score of 99-91 in Game 2.
From the tip, it was clear that the Clippers were playing with a new level of intensity and physicality. Every time the Jazz looked to drive the lane, they would be met with a wall of bodies. Each time they set a screen, their defenders would be aggressively attempting to jump it.
Los Angeles was also able to assert its will in transition, getting baskets before the Jazz defense was set on multiple occasions.
This led to their first quarter leads of 11-3 and 19-8, both of which prompted a Quin Snyder timeout.
The Clippers would maintain this advantage the rest of the way, carrying an 11-point lead at the end of the first quarter and a nine-point lead at halftime.
Over the course of the second half, the Jazz would never come closer than three points, while the deficit remained around 10 points for the entire fourth quarter.
Gordon Hayward again led the scoring effort for Utah with 20 points, with four other Jazz players finishing in double figures.
On the Clippers’ side, Blake Griffin paced his team with 24 points, while Chris Paul also finished with 21.
Rudy Gobert missed Game 2 dealing with a hyperextended knee and bone contusion suffered on Saturday, and with no clear timetable for his return, the Jazz are in the dark as far as when they’ll see him on the floor again, if at all this season.
His absence created a whole new swath of issues and concerns for both teams, and there’s plenty to learn from the Clippers’ victory in this one.
April 18, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) moves the ball against Utah Jazz guard George Hill (3) and forward Derrick Favors (15) during the second half in game two of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Protecting The Paint
The absence of Rudy Gobert was unexpected for both teams in Game 1, with the Jazz scrambling to cover his minutes and the Clippers left unable to gameplan for that eventuality.
Perhaps this explained why, despite Utah’s lack of rim protection, Los Angeles played mostly through Blake Griffin on post-ups, which lead to the Jazz’s small-ball lineup having success despite being a man down.
With time to devise a plan to attack the Jazz’s new weakness though, the Clippers offense proved to be much more effective. No longer did they force-feed Griffin on the low block, but instead, they focused on isolating the less-mobile Jazz bigs in the pick and roll.
Los Angeles isn’t nearly as scared of Derrick Favors as they are of Gobert, and the former doesn’t have they length or leaping ability to deter the lob as seen above. With the conservative way the Jazz play the high screen, that’s a problem.
All told, the Clippers scored 60 points in the paint, shooting 52 percent from the field as a result. Even the 39-year-old Paul Pierce managed to slice though the lane for a layup at one point.
Unsurprisingly, the leaders in this regard were Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, who combined to score 42 points, 38 of which came from inside the lane. For the Jazz, there’s really not much that can be done rotationally to fix this, as they’ve already been running out their biggest lineups available.
Even though they attempted so many field goals around the basket, the Clippers still only shot six free throws all game. This is low when viewed on its own, but when Jordan’s free throw shooting (48 percent this season) is factored in, it’s a downright abysmal number.
Jordan has eight dunks against the Jazz on Tuesday. If he’s forced to earn these points at the line, there’s a good chance he’ll end up with about half the production.
April 18, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward (20) moves the ball against Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) during the first half in game two of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
The Clippers brought a new level of toughness to the series on Tuesday, and in no other area was there more evidence than the Jazz offense. As a team, Utah shot only 45 percent, with many key players contributing to the lower percentage.
The Jazz don’t have a ton of explosive finishers around the basket. Most of their penetrators prefer to draw the defense in and kick out to an open shooter on the perimeter. In late shot clock situations, this leads to some rushed and contested shot attempts.
Luc Mbah a Moute is one of the NBA’s best perimeter defenders, and he’s been matched up on Gordon Hayward during this series, leading to some sub-par shooting performances for the All-Star.
Hayward shot just 5-for-15 on Tuesday, following up a 7-for-18 outing on Saturday.
Other main pieces like George Hill and Joe Johnson also struggled in Game 2, shooting 5-for-12 and 6-for-15 from the field, respectively.
Without Gobert functioning as the dive man, opposing defenders aren’t at all compelled to sag down into the paint.
This leaves little room to attack a close-out on the catch for the Jazz, which is important given how their guards aren’t prolific slashers.
Utah shot 10-of-25 (40 percent) from behind the arc, but Johnson, who is often counted on to carry the offense off the bench, missed all four of his attempts from deep. With how low-scoring this game was, just one of those falling could have turned the tide.
Apr 15, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; 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. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
With Favors at center, the Jazz have been starting their only other true big at the power forward spot in Boris Diaw. This is probably the right decision by Snyder, because even though their more versatile forwards have had success at the 4, that type of matchup is better utilized in shorter bursts.
At 6’8″ and 250 pounds, Diaw is a decent physical counter to Griffin, but his quickness has mostly left him at age 35. In Game 2, he finished only a -5, but his individual defense allowed the Clippers plenty of scoring opportunities.
In an isolation post-up, Diaw really stands no chance, especially as Chris Paul sets a quasi-screen in the lane.
At the top of the key, the Clippers don’t even need to set a screen in order to get Diaw out of position. With a head of steam, Griffin is incredibly hard to stop, and his ability to hit the tough up-and-under makes matters worse.
And finally, even the 6’4″, 190-pound J.J. Redick is able to pin Diaw on a screen long enough to free up his teammate for an easy layup.
All told, Griffin scored 13 of his 24 points in the 21 minutes he and Diaw shared the floor. As he’s led his team in scoring in both games, the Jazz need to formulate a plan to avoid this repetitive mismatch that exists. That will be tough, especially considering the scarcity of options they face.