Los Angeles Clippers: 5 Takeaways As Clippers Force Game 7

Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan and guard Raymond Felton celebrate during a time out against the Utah Jazz in Game 6. Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports.

The Los Angeles Clippers went to Utah needing a Game 6 win to stay alive in the series. They managed to pull out a 98-93 victory.  They will need to build on their successes with a do-or-die Game 7 ahead.

The Los Angeles Clippers appeared to be in dire straits prior to Game 6. After losing Blake Griffin to injury in Game 3, they dropped both Game 4 and Game 5. They needed a win on the road to keep their playoff run alive.

Instead of folding, however, the Clippers managed to put together a 98-93 victory over the Utah Jazz to tie the series at 3-3. After haunting the Clippers all series long with his heroics, Joe Johnson missed a late three-pointer that would have tied the game.

The series will conclude in a do-or-die Game 7 Sunday at Staples Center. While tonight’s game showed that home court does not guarantee a victory, the Clippers will at least have the advantage heading into the game.

Two years after coming back from down 3-2 against the San Antonio Spurs, the Clippers have a chance to close out another playoff series after being behind. With the second round in sight, here are five takeaways from Game 6 that will likely determine the outcome of the series.

Apr 28, 2017; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan dunks during the third quarter against the Utah Jazz in Game 6. Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports.

5. DeAndre Jordan’s Tale Of Two Halves

DeAndre Jordan might as well have been invisible during the first half of Game 6. He finished with four points on just two shots in addition to six rebounds. He looked lost trying to defend Rudy Gobert and did not have an answer on the offensive end.

The second half was a different story. DeAndre only shot 3-for-6 in the second half, but his increased aggression opened up more opportunities for his teammates. He also grabbed 12 boards in the second half and helped the Clippers win the rebounding battle 41-38.

DeAndre can bend opposing defenses in all kinds of directions when he is on his game. Other teams have to stick to him when he has any sort of opening to the rim. Furthermore, he is responsible for keeping the team alive on the glass–he had three times as many rebounds as Luc Mbah a Moute, the next leading rebounder for Los Angeles. If the Clippers are going to win Game 7, they will need Jordan to stay active on the glass on top of playing his role in one of the other key areas from the Game 6 win.

Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford dribbles the ball while being guarded by Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert during the second quarter of Game 6. Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports.

4. Clippers Win The Battle Of The Benches

The Clippers’ bench has been a thorn in their side on more than one occasion this season. They have struggled throughout the year, especially in comparison to the brilliance of their usual starting group. Given Utah’s remarkable depth and Austin Rivers’ promotion to the starting lineup, the bench minutes were a presumable loss for the Clippers.

Instead, the Clippers bench outscored the Jazz bench 26-20. Most of that production came from Jamal Crawford, who put up 12 points in 29 minutes, and Marreese Speights, who scored nine points in just 10 minutes. Paul Pierce added a critical three-pointer in the third quarter to tie the game. Los Angeles never trailed again after that basket.

The Clippers should not be relying on poor shooting nights from Joe Johnson (3-of-9) and Derrick Favors (1-of-6) in Game 7. However, if the Clippers bench can at least match the production from the Jazz bench, they will have a reasonable path to a Game 7 victory.

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert keeps the ball away from Los Angeles Clippers center Marreese Speights during the second quarter of Game 6, prior to injuring his ankle in the third quarter. Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports.

3. Rudy Gobert Gets Injured Again

Saying that Rudy Gobert changed the course of this series would be an understatement. After missing all but the first play of Game 1, Gobert returned in Game 4 and shut down the rim with his usual ferocity on defense. His return has had a bigger impact on the course of this series than Blake Griffin’s injury.

However, Gobert once again got hurt in this game, as he landed awkwardly late in the third quarter and appeared to injure his ankle. Gobert played under three minutes in the fourth quarter and sat out down the stretch even as the Jazz almost managed to come back to tie the game late.

This ankle injury is clearly not as big of an issue as his hyperextended knee was earlier in the series. After all, Gobert did continue to play in the third quarter and was at least able to make it back onto the court for the fourth quarter.

In spite of that, this injury could be devastating to Utah’s chances in Game 7. The quick turnaround between Games 6 and 7 means that Gobert will not have any significant time to rehab his injury. If it does end up limiting him in Game 7, that alone could be enough to carry the Clippers to victory.

Los Angeles Clippers forward Luc Mbah a Moute hounds Boris Diaw during the first quarter of Game 6. Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports.

2. Wing Defense From The Unheralded Starting Forwards

It seems asinine to say that Austin Rivers and Luc Mbah a Moute may have controlled the course of this game. However, the Clippers managed to receive solid production from the least heralded members of their Game 6 starting unit.

Both Rivers and Mbah a Moute finished with 13 points and played great defense the entire game. Rivers kept Gordon Hayward mostly in check before a late game spurt, and Mbah a Moute hounded Joe Johnson into a terrible night on the offensive end just days after getting burned by  Johnson for another game-winning basket.

After opting for Marreese Speights to start in place of Blake Griffin in Games 4 and 5, Doc wisely opted to put his son in the starting lineup for Game 6. The smaller starting crew not only managed to avoid getting torched on defense but also managed to string together a great game on that end of the floor. Utah did not manage to even crack 80 points until there were less than three minutes remaining in the game.

Given their success in this game, Doc will likely use this same starting five in Game 7. However, the Clippers’ success in that game will rest on the shoulders of another one of their starters–a man who is quite accustomed to carrying this team.

Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul controls the ball just as he controlled Game 6. Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports.

1. The Continued Brilliance of Chris Paul

Chris Paul once again carried the Clippers to victory with a masterful performance. He ended the night with 29 points on 20 shots. He also dished out eight assists and played his usual excellent defense at the point of attack.

There are not many superlatives for Paul that are adequate to describe his performance in this series. Despite missing the team’s second option on offense, Paul continues to plug away and keep the Clippers in the series. Although he did have a couple of bad turnovers late, something unusual for the least turnover-prone point guard in the league, few could doubt his dominance in this game.

Paul is averaging 27.3 points and 10.0 assists through six games in this series. He is also averaging two steals per game and continues to be the best guard defender on either team in this series.

As has been the case many times before in his career, the Clippers’ chances of victory and advancing to the second round rest squarely on the shoulders of Chris Paul. As he has shown time and time again, he is up to the challenge. Chris Paul is fourth all-time in Win Shares per 48 minutes in the playoffs, per Basketball-Reference.

The Clippers will need to bring everything they have to Sunday’s game in Los Angeles to win this series. Luckily for them, their best player has a history of great playoff performances behind him. Chris Paul will have to carry the Clippers to victory in Game 7, and he has proven countless times already that he is up to the task.

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