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Utah Jazz Downbeat #2073: Early returns suggest Clippers are approaching a Danger Zone

The #NBAPlayoffs are LIT! I’m close to 40 and don’t follow popular culture. I don’t know what that means!

NBA: Playoffs-Utah Jazz at Los Angeles Clippers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The Utah Jazz are one up on the Los Angeles Clippers. But the NBA Playoffs are just starting. There are so many more games yet to play. We take a look at our opponents; the general reaction to what has happened so far; break down some of the stats that I figure are going to either keep the Jazz in the game or blow them out of the next one; and get a little personal.

The Utah Jazz won. But so have the Milwaukee Bucks and Chicago Bulls. That’s 3/8 being 1-0 in favor of the underdogs.

Of course, the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors looked dominant. And the Washington Wizards are going to have a Final Four finish at this rate. No one called that at the start of the season. (Yeah, the Boston Celtics didn’t scare me, and I don’t think the Chicago Bulls will beat them four out of seven.)

Health is probably going to be a big factor in who advances, especially the deeper you go. But we already have that to worry about. #TooSoon

Every road team has one job to do at the start of ever playoff series. And that job is to win one of the first two games. That’s it. Utah’s job, if they were at full health, was to win one game. And they’ve done that, while missing a huu-uuge piece of the team.

As a result I really do believe that the Utah Jazz are playing with the House’s money right now. If you don’t understand that expression it refers to going to a Casino and winning so much that you can be a little more freer with how you play. Because if you lose some money in the short term it’s because you are up so much money in the big picture - money you already took from the Casino (and / or the House).

Art of The Motorcycle At Venetian Casino In Las Vegas Photo by the Venetian Casio/Getty Images

I know that we have readers from all over the world and at times I do use too many expressions that North Americans are familiar with. But this isn’t a place for just North American Jazz fans. #JazzNation #JazzMundial

But back to the Jazz. Utah has no expectations as the underdog. They are the team without home court. They are the team that isn’t favored to win this series. And because of that, there is no pressure at all.

On the other hand, there’s a LOT of pressure on the Los Angeles Clippers. Even more now that they lost Game 1 and their head coach is already taking it out on the press.

Chris Paul is under a lot of pressure as well, as his “legacy” is in question.

Chris Paul's nightmares must all conclude with a giant talking head (probably a clown) screaming, "But he has never been to a conference finals!" at the top of his lungs. In what has been an unprecedented career for a point guard, Paul still has to answer that nagging question of why he hasn't been able to lead his team even to the doorstep of a championship. To silence his critics and for the sake of his own sanity, Paul needs a deep run in this year's playoffs. The only problem is, they have to play the Warriors in the second round -- if they even get that far. A first-round loss to the Jazz would be disastrous, and would play right into the hands of the "Chris Paul can't win" narrative. But a strong first round and a tough performance against the Warriors (a six- or seven-game series) would at least keep Paul in the conversation of the league's best point guards. If Paul goes one better and somehow engineers an upset win over the Warriors in the second round, he'll silence his naysayers forever. At nearly 32 years old and with the Clippers on the verge of blowing up the team if they suffer yet another playoff failure, this could very well be Paul's last chance to pull it off.

Colin Ward-Henninger, CBS Sports, 2017

Colin also lists Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert as players with the “most to prove” this post-season; but I don’t really agree with his reasoning. Anyway, CP3 sucks, and he’s not a winner. That’s my forever #HotTake though. But I’m not the only one who knows he’s on the hot seat. He is. But so are the Clippers, in general.

Former SB Nation Blazers Edge standout Ben Golliver really breaks it down, brutally.

Head coach Doc Rivers was king of a ‘grouch’ in the post-game presser after the LAC loss.

Doc Rivers, tie loose and jacket off, scrunched up his face as a reporter quizzed him about LA’s late-game strategy. “That makes no sense,” the coach interjected bluntly, shaking his head and adopting the tone of a full-on lecture. “That is, like, the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

This flash of frank talk came off as pure projection, a jolting reminder that Rivers’s Clippers entered the postseason under a more ominous cloud than any of the other 15 teams in the field. LA has been building to this pressure-packed moment for years—its last stand before Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick hit free agency—and had been rounding into good form in recent weeks.

But any positive momentum generated by a seven-game winning streak disappeared Saturday when Utah’s Joe Johnson delivered a 97-95 Game 1 win at Staples Center with a crowd-silencing runner at the buzzer. Johnson’s shot not only swiped home-court advantage, it laid bare Utah’s biggest advantage over LA in the match-up: comfort amidst adversity.

Ben Golliver, Sports Illustrated, 2017

Utah had to rally together, to trust one another, after Rudy Gobert went down on the first play of the game. Golliver adds:

The Clippers, by contrast, tightened up at times and blew up at others: J.J. Redick struggled to free himself from Utah’s perimeter defenders, Jamal Crawford missed multiple open looks at crucial threes down the stretch, Griffin committed six turnovers as he attempted to force the issue against an overloading defense, and a frustrated DeAndre Jordan was whistled for a technical foul late in the fourth quarter.

Ben Golliver, Sports Illustrated, 2017

It’s real, and it’s all true. Read his full breakdown.

Speaking of breakdowns, we’re seeing the Clippers do just that. And they could just break, period. Chris Paul has an Early Termination Option (ETO) on his contract that he could elect to use after this season is over. Blake Griffin also has an ETO he can use to become an Unrestricted Free Agent just like Paul. J.J. Redick is in the last year of his contract and will be a UFA regardless. Paul Pierce doesn’t have a fully-guaranteed deal for next year. And Luc Mbah a Moute and Marreese Speights both have Player’s Options to opt out as well (like what Gordon Hayward has). Raymond Felton and Brandon Bass - key rotation players who stepped up during all of LAC’s injures, are UFA’s as well.

It’s not just bend or break for the Clippers right now, it’s now or never.

At the risk of being “that guy,” the longer this series goes the better it can be for Utah.

Let’s keep it real. Sure. The Clippers have internal stressors, but the external threat of the Jazz has to be a big deal for them. At the very least, it’s not helping anything.

Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan combine for just 36 points against a front-court rotation of Derrick Favors, Joe Johnson, and Boris Diaw? They can’t be happy with being so ‘meh’ without Rudy Gobert in the middle. (And yes, ‘meh’ is shooting 13/28 as bigmen.)

The internet reaction to the Game 1 victory for Utah has been a lot of fun to watch.

And last, but not least:

There are so many things to see, share, and save - the Jazz are currently moving at the speed of the internet. And it’s very fast. For the best stuff, follow Basketball John (@5KL) and Moni (@Monilogue) on twitter.

In my NBA Playoffs UTA/LAC mega Excel sheet one of my main things to focus on was fouls. Early on in Game 1 Utah wasn’t allowed to play defense without getting called for fouls (Both Derrick Favors and Jeff Withey were getting penalized in the first quarter). As the game went on and the refs realized that it was the Playoffs things got better.

Furthermore, I have to say that LAC didn’t really flop at all in this last game. (I expect that may change as the series goes on.) Utah was called for 19 fouls, and LA went to the line 17 times. And LA was called for 18 fouls and Utah went to the line 19 times. The Jazz were called for more fouls, but also went to the line more. I can live with that. You can say that the Jazz got the better of the Clippers because DeAndre was called for fouling Derrick in the fourth quarter, when upon replay it didn’t look like there was a foul there at all. That call, in a vacuum, was bad. But it prevented the Clippers from having a foul to give at the end of the game that they could have taken on Joe Johnson to stop the clock and then call a time-out and put back in LRMaM.

In my Excel sheet one of the other main things to focus on was three point shooting. Because of time x energy, I didn’t get to drop that post. But my plan is to do so after Game 2 before Game 3 with the series data incorporated within it. But as for the data from Game 1 . . . I am okay with this.

Yes, the Jazz shot 8/19 (.421) from deep, and the Clippers 8/24 (.333), but this was not a wish. And yes, Gordon Hayward went 0/1, George Hill 1/2, Joe Ingles 1/5, and Rodney Hood 2/5 . . . but it’s not as crazy as what happened with the Clippers.

I am really, really okay with LRMaM, Griffin, and Speights shooting 6/10 (.600) from outside if that means that Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, and Jamal Crawford shoot 2/12 (.166) going forward.

True. If you give their bigs the time to set up and don’t close out on them they can take -and make- three pointers. And that’s something to adjust to, especially if you are forced to go small.

[Not that there’s a 6’9, athletic, quick, big man who is defensively focused and can space the floor on the other side of the ball or anything . . . oh wait, maybe there is? Brian Cook? Josh Howard?]

I expect the Clippers fortunes to change, hungry and desperate in Game 2 - and I expect both the whistles and the threes to go their way. So I’m predicting a big, momentum-swinging win for them on Tuesday. DeAndre is going to look great, Chris is going to be smiling, Doc will be nice to reporters again, and Blake will be in full ‘fake tough-guy’ mode.

Can’t wait to see that garbage in HD on my TV set. Tuesday, April 18th, 8:30 p.m. (MT), on ROOT Sports and TNT; and on the radio KZNS.

So, who had the best reaction to Joe Johnson’s game-winner?

NBA: Playoffs-Utah Jazz at Los Angeles Clippers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

More personally, what was YOUR reaction to his game winner? I couldn’t even think of something clever to say, I was just so happy. I knew it was good as soon as he got into the lane and got it up over DeAndre. I was just buzzing like a happy little bee, incapable of language or higher thought.