It’s finally here: the NBA Playoffs. Out west in the Four / Five spot we have the Los Angeles Clippers hosting the Utah Jazz. The Jazz and Clippers are a nice match-up on paper. They have the exact same overall record, record against the West, home record, and road records. The one inequality here is that the Clippers went up 3-1 in the season series and as is their right, earned home court advantage.
Still, this is either going to be a tough series or one that quickly favors the veteran team that’s been there before vs. the team cobbled together between half baked parts and veteran newbies.
I understand how good the Clippers are, and I’m not under-estimating the true power of their super talented / high chemistry starting line-up. (Seriously, 3rd most minutes of any lineup for all 30 teams!) But I do understand there are some individual player match-ups that could help our guys stay in the series.
1 George Hill vs. Chris Paul:
This is the most important match-up. Utah can beat the Clippers in this series with every other possible outcome EXCEPT if Chris Paul goes buck wild. Paul is their best player, their leader, and a future Hall of Famer. And he has absolutely feasted on Jazz point guards since he’s been a Clipper.
It’s going to be up to George Hill to stem that tide. Hill is younger. More athletic. Taller. Has a 6’9.5” wingspan. And has defensive instincts from his years with the Gregg Popovich coached San Antonio Spurs and the Frank Vogel coached Indiana Pacers. He’s got enough lateral quickness to move around the court on defense, and the strength to fight through screens.
All that said, Chris Paul is still a beast.
- Career: 18.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 9.9 apg, 2.3 spg, 0.1 bpg, 1.2 3PTM
- 2016-17: 18.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 9.2 apg, 1.9 spg, 0.1 bpg, 2.0 3PTM
- Career vs Jazz: 17.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 8.6 apg, 2.2 spg, 0.0 bpg, 0.8 3PTM
- 2016-17 vs Jazz: 18.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 7.0 apg, 1.7 spg, 0.0 bpg, 2.0 3PTM
In the playoffs when every possession counts, Paul is a surgeon with the ball. Paul is more than just a pick and roll, pass-first point guard. He has really worked on his stroke his entire career and I’d call him a player who has dead-eye ability from mid-range off the bounce. You can’t let him get those open jumpers. He’ll make them. He’s not Jason Kidd.
So what’s life like for Hill vs. Paul?
They’ve played against one another 18 times in their careers and Hill’s squads have won 10 and lost 8. Not all of that is due to Hill, though. You just know that the San Antonio Spurs were going to beat the New Orleans Hornets. You didn’t see the Indiana Pacers rolling the Los Angeles Clippers though.
In this match-up I’m not worried about Hill’s ability to score or whatever. He’ll score, but for Utah to win this series they aren’t going to be relying on Hill to hit for 20 every game. LA is going to want to see Paul go for as many points as possible, though.
So against Hill we see Paul average 20.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 8.1 apg, 1.4 spg, 0.1 bpg, and 1.6 3PTM. Compared to his career, season, and splits against the Jazz we see CP3 scoring more, rebounding more, and getting fewer assists.
So this could be how this is played - make Paul more of a scorer, who somehow doesn’t help his teammates get easier scores. If Hill can do this that would limit Griffin, Redick, Crawford, Jordan, and others. Of course, CP3 is good enough right now to be able to drop 30 on the Jazz defense.
I think I’d rather see Paul go for 30 instead of seeing him get 15+ assists though. Pick your poison. Hill isn’t going to be the only guy checking Paul. And Paul isn’t going to be in single coverage all game long, they will try to trap him on the pick and roll, after all. Utah does have a scheme!
So who has the advantage here? Clearly Chris Paul. But I hold out hope that Hill can do enough, maybe shifting Paul from distributing to shooting, to make a difference in this series.
2 Rudy Gobert vs. DeAndre Jordan:
I look at this as the second biggest match-up in this series. If CP3 becomes a basketball demi-God it’s going to be very hard to win. If DeAndre plays way above his level it’s still not a world ender for Utah. A big part of that happens to be a) he does have a limited set of tools, and b) Rudy Gobert is the better player.
Where does one begin? Jordan is a great screener on offense. He’s athletic and huge and finishes lobs. He’s active on the glass and gets offensive rebounds and tip-ins. He doesn’t really have a back to the basket game, but he does get out and run in transition. He sounds a lot like Rudy Gobert on offense.
But there’s one big difference.
Rudy makes his free throws. DeAndre does not.
And if the game is close and it’s crunch time there’s no good reason for Quin Snyder NOT to hack DeAndre. He’s a sub .500 shooter, while Rudy is close (but still under) .700. If you can’t play DeAndre in crunch time it doesn’t matter how good he is. You can’t set moving screens or get tip ins from the bench.
Rudy and DeAndre are both excellent rim protectors. Both own the glass. Both challenge and change a lot of shots. But if one of them can’t stay in the game, it’s really one sided.
Of course, if the refs decide to just be dicks and give the Jazz bigs early foul trouble then DeAndre could have a great series. He’s not a game changer by himself. But if he’s thriving it could be trouble.
Rudy Gobert is there to make sure he does not.
So who has the advantage here? I’m going to be giving this decision to the future DPOY and potential All-NBA 1st team center Gobert. He’s been amazing this season, even if he hasn’t dominated LAC yet. Even if Rudy does 80% of what he can do he should be better than DeAndre. Rudy is the key to the Jazz defense. And the key to the Jazz season is defense. He’s the most important player for Utah as a result. And he’s having a historic season.
3 Gordon Hayward vs. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute:
This is where I really start to worry. Rudy and DeAndre are pretty much a wash outside of the fourth quarter / crunch time. We all expect CP3 to be better than Hill, even if Hill can possibly slow him down a bit.
I’m just not super confident with Hayward’s ability to score on strong, long, defensive-minded forwards. He didn’t do well against
Ron Artest Metta World Peace, or Luol Deng. We’ve seen him really have to give his all against Paul George. But for whatever reason LRMaM really makes life tough for him.
That’s bad news for Utah because Hayward is the first option, leading scorer, and go-to-guy in the fourth quarter. In the 13 games they’ve faced off G-Time’s team has won 7-6. And Gordon is averaging 18.2 ppg. But he’s shooting .418 in order to do it. Also, LRMaM doesn’t foul him too much, Hayward (as a first option) is getting to the line fewer than 6.0 times a game in this H2H match-up.
Mbah a Moute does get lit up from deep, as Hayward shoots .440 against him. But two can play at that game. Hayward gets set on fire by LRMaM who is shooting .583 from deep against him.
Yes. I know. OMGWTFBBQ.
Hayward seems to have solved him, for now. In his last five games against the Clippers and LRMaM he has scored 28 points, 24 points, 7 points, 27 points, and 13 points. That solved should be “solved”. The 7 point stinker had G-Time shooting 2/12. The last game, 13 points, had Gordon hit 5/12.
Utah’s offense can hide a player shooting poorly, even their top scorer, but only for a little while. If Luc continues to bottle up Gordon it’s going to be a bad series for Utah fans. If Gordon can get his shooting stroke back we could have more than four games to write game threads for.
So who has the advantage here? There’s no doubt that Hayward is the better player. But he loses this match-up if he can’t score over 20 without having to chuck shots to get there. Furthermore, Hayward is the primary focus of the opposition game plan. They are going to try to make his life hell, and Luc Richard is going to be the main guy in that plan. Utah critically needs a high scoring Hayward here. I don’t know if we see it.
4 Joe Ingles vs. J.J. Redick:
J.J. Redick is awesome. Shooting above 45% from the floor and 44% from deep, while getting about 3 rpg, 3 apg, and 1 spg this season, it’s clear to see why this guy makes LAC’s Big Three into a potential Big Four. Except there’s one problem here. Those are Joe Ingles’ stats.
Redick is at 45% from the floor and 43% from deep, while getting 2 rpg, 1 apg, and 1 spg. In more mpg.
So this match-up is way closer than people think. Both are underrated athletically, and not seen as defenders. Both actually are. Redick benefits from a great offensive system that gets him the ball off the move where he can shoot and score with ease. Ingles does more on the ball stuff on offense than JJ, but has been knock down when he has his feet set.
Ingles has the versatility and height that make him valuable all over the floor. Redick has that extreme specialization that makes him hard to stop.
And this is going to be a really fun match-up to watch. It’s actually the fourth most important individual match-up to the Jazz’ success in this series. If Ingles can negate Redick, if he can keep LAC in “Big three” mode and not in “Big Four” mode then the Jazz have a great shot.
I honestly don’t know who has the advantage here. Redick does shoot more and score more. And that’s his role. Ingles’ role is to be all over the court. I can actually see Ingles being more important to the Jazz’ success than Redick is to the Clipper’s success. But this could be a wash when all is said and done.
5 Dante Exum vs. Jamal Crawford:
Age. Experience. Savvy. Offensive ability. Clutch shooting. Great at drawing fouls. Quickness. Fantastic ball handling ability. This is a trial by fire for Dante Exum. Jamal Crawford is so much better than Austin Rivers. And Rivers is out. Dante, playing more and more SG lately, is going to be coming off the bench. And he’ll be doing it while facing one of the top bench scorers of All-Time.
Crawford can hit for 50. Crawford has burned the Jazz for so long. But Exum is super young, super long, super quick, and a natural defender. Just up there in that picture is Dante stripping the ball from Crawford on a potential game winner.
Can that happen more than once ever? Can Dante D-up Jamal? For a game? For two? For four?
Doc Rivers has a very tight rotation, and plays his best players the most minutes. Crawford is their 6th man, and one of maybe three total bench guys you’ll usually see. That makes him that much more of an important target to stop.
If Exum and somewhat slow down Crawford, then LAC may be hurting for bench points. (Unless Raymond Felton or Marreese Speights goes nuts.)
Advantage? Crawford. Obviously. But just because you have the advantage doesn’t mean you’ll actually win the match-up. You still have to play the games. I don’t know what to expect from Dante. But that means I can’t expect that it’s impossible for him to surprise us. Young guys do rise to the occasion at times. Bryon Russell became a starter THROUGH his trial by fire in the NBA Playoffs. He was a third stringer when his name was called by Jerry Sloan. It’s happened before. Dante could have a GREAT Playoffs. And it could start with this match-up.
Utah is the underdog. And LAC has the stars. I didn’t even mention Blake Griffin, because I’m just assuming that he’s going to have a great series against Boris Diaw, Derrick Favors, and Joe Johnson. It’s important for CP3 to be slowed down and for Rudy to Gobert all over DeAndre. It’s not entirely plausible that both of those things happen. So it will be up to the other three potential match-ups to go in Utah’s favor.
It can happen. But LAC is the favorite for a reason.