This is it, Utah Jazz fans, the first possible chance for the good guys to knock of the Los Angeles Clippers. Utah is up 3-2, and at home. And this really, really should be it. The Jazz have never lost a series up 3-2, and the Clippers have never won one when down 2-3. Even ESPN, when they aren’t busy firing people, have the Jazz winning this series 3 times out of 4. But they still need to finish the job tonight. There are five key points for us to watch. Here they are:
We all suspected that the longer this series goes the more pressure it will form on the Clippers. They had the home court advantage after winning the season series 3-1. The Jazz weren’t fully healthy, and the Clippers took advantage. But the team they beat up on isn’t the team they are facing right now. With three of their starters free agents this year, and this being their sixth year in a row of futility, guys aren’t on the same page anymore.
Doc Rivers, the head coach and GM, is on the hot seat. His team is old, and used to be poised. But injuries and off-season whispers don’t help things at all. Their star player throws tantrums all game long, and he gets into it with his own teammates during time outs.
On the road, with their backs to the wall, it’s possible that they figure things out to extend the series. But on the road, against a team that possibly smells blood in the water, it could just as easily by an unceremonious exit for Lob City.
Utah was the underdog. And they won in LA twice this series. The Clippers lost home court TWICE. All the pressure isn’t on them, but most of it is. And they are approaching that point where they can’t handle that much pressure anymore.
The Clippers keep talking about picking up the pace. They don’t want to play at the Jazz speed anymore. I get that, they are getting picked apart by the Jazz in the half court, and are having trouble scoring when Utah is set on D. How do you pick up the pace? You need to get stops, turn overs, rebounds, whatever it is. You can’t run if you don’t have the ball.
And the easiest way to get the ball is by getting a stop and getting that defensive rebound. Of course, the easiest way for Utah to maintain the pace of play, and by slowing it down, is to get the defensive rebounds themselves. Both teams are under 20% ORB% so far in the playoffs. In the regular season LAC was 21.5% and UTA was 23.2%. So things are simple. They both are keeping the other team off the offensive glass, and taking care of over 80% of their DRB%.
DeAndre Jordan and Rudy Gobert are big parts of that, on both ends of the court. Rudy has gotten more help than DeAndre - but even when Blake Griffin was healthy he really wasn’t crashing the boards - 6.0 RPG in the playoffs this year. LAC took control of the glass without Rudy there, as he missed three games.
Now that he is back the pendulum has swung the other way. Is Utah wins the rebounds tonight, it could go very well.
This is the other part of getting the pace up. Both teams are taking care of the ball pretty well - a big part of that is the pace of play and the style of play, it’s mostly pick and rolls each time down and short passes around the perimeter. Utah has relied on playing straight up defense, but in Game 5 we saw them go after the ball and force turn overs. It was something LAC had not seen - an aggressive active defense, instead of a reactive protective defense.
And it worked.
Of course, Chris Paul is known for getting steals here or there as well. But Rudy Gobert had five in Game 5. While this is less important than rebounds, unless there are way too many of them, this could have a bigger impact on pace of play.
The Jazz don’t score a lot in transition, but nothing gets the home court louder than fast break dunks. Being at home you have to take every advantage you can get.
Three Point Shooting:
Utah takes and makes a lot of threes. They’ve also been contesting almost everything LA shoots. According to the data they are contesting over 95% of LAC’s three point attempts. As a result, LAC isn’t making as many as they’d want to. (LAC is contesting 70% of the UTA’s 3PTA, on the other side of the court.)
If Utah continues to work the ball around and gets open shots they are going to take them. Will they make them? The odds are that they should. Joe Ingles, Joe Johnson, Gordon Hayward, George Hill, and others have been successful so far from outside.
Guys like J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford? Hit or miss.
Chris Paul has been a killer so far, but I’m fine with that. Better to have him go off and freeze out his own teammates than to get them involved. It’s a very Kobe Bryant thing to do, especially because in the off-season he’ll complain about not getting any help. And it was he, himself, who froze them out.
I expect a close game. Their backs are against the wall. Utah needs to learn how to finish teams. Joe Johnson, Boris Diaw, even George Hill have done that in the NBA Playoffs. Joe Ingles has played in a lot of big games too. Then again, so has Paul Pierce - but for the most part both teams are about as new at this as each other.
When your best player has never gotten to the Conference finals that means he doesn’t know how to finish strong either.
Utah, at home, should.