The Utah Jazz (2-2) defeated the Los Angeles Clippers (2-2) tonight by the final score of 105-98. And in doing so, have tied up their 4/5 series in the NBA Playoffs at two wins a piece. This game wasn’t a given, and there has been plenty of intrigue to add huge unknowns to this series that so many national writers assumed would be very predictable.
Blake Griffin, the Clippers’ leading scorer, left Game 3 before halftime, and is now out for the rest of the season. In this one Gordon Hayward, the Jazz’ leading scorer, had to leave after nine minutes with dehydration and flu-like symptoms. But you know who was back? Rudy Gobert. And he just changes everything.
Furthermore, J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford both broke out of their shooting slumps (hitting a combined 7 threes in 14 attempts). Raymond Felton’s continued confusing excellence meant that Quin Snyder was forced to try out all four of his point guards tonight (George Hill, Raul Neto, Shelvin Mack, and Dante Exum). Joe Johnson and Chris Paul are veterans who know how to score when the game is on the line. Paul’s 27 points were inferior to Iso-Joe’s 28 off the bench.
But really? The fulcrum for this game was Rudy Gobert. And this could be the fulcrum for this series. Having Rudy back, and with the full blessings from the Jazz that he’s not a risk to hurt himself by coming back after missing 2 games, makes the Jazz offense and defense tick.
He started this game, won the tip, and did his job by immediately making an impact on Chris Paul’s driving ability. CP3 just didn’t when Rudy was in, unless Rudy was defending the three point line. (We see you Marreese Speights, please stop hitting threes please.) Utah would go up early by about 7, but CP3 allowed his team to stay poised and win the first quarter 26-24.
Utah would rally and take the lead at the half 55-52. How did they do that with Gordon Hayward having to leave the game, and be driven home by Dennis Lindsey? (For more IV fluid treatment.) It was really because of the master-class put on by Joe Ingles in this game. Ingles was tasked with pulling double duty on CP3 on switches and by design; but it was his 11 assists (2 turn overs) that kept finding holes in the Clippers defense. He found Derrick Favors early and often (Favors would finish the game scoring 15 more points in Game 4 than in Game 3), and also got Rudy going as well (15 points for him as well, 6/6 shooting - 3/4 from the line).
The Clippers would re-take the lead in the third by scoring 28 points, Jamal just couldn’t miss (he’d go for 25 off the bench). But the good guys would match that with 28 points in the fourth.
This was a crazy game. I’m happy for the win. Joe Ingles and Joe Johnson were the MVPs, obvious. Iso-Joe turned back the clock again and shot 12/17, was patient, and his scoring really took the Jazz across that finish line tonight. Ingles was doing it on offense and defense (2 steals, 1 block, on-ball defense).
Rudy Gobert changed this series. But it wouldn’t even be a series if not for our not-so-average Joes. Also, worth noting - Rodney Hood dropped 18 off the bench and we needed every bucket.
Including Dante Exum’s three pointer. In a game that ends with a 7 point final margin, everyone has to help out. Dante, in his first action since who knows when, made some mistakes. But made some winning plays too.
It’s now a best of three, and both teams know they can win on the road. Which makes sense, both teams won 51 games, had the same road record, the same home record, and the same conference record. The 3-1 advantage in the season was based upon the healthy Clippers playing the injured Jazz.
Utah has been injured all year long, and LA has missed a lot of games for CP3 and Blake this year. But Utah’s depth was tested over 82 games, while LA perhaps did not have to go as deep. Utah’s injury-tested team is deeper and digging out these wins.
And we see the Jazz, who started this series without Raul Neto and lost Rudy Gobert after 11 seconds, are now the team that is healthier. (Sorry Diamond Stone, you aren’t a game changer - but Austin Rivers could be in Game 5.) No Blake means more Paul / Jordan pick and rolls.
That worked great early on in this series. It no longer does with Gobert in the paint.
Game 5 will be on Tuesday, in LA, on TNT.
And remember, the longer this series goes . . . the more and more pressure only ONE of these teams will be playing under. Oh yeah, one more thing: