SALT LAKE CITY – Following the Clippers Game 5 loss to the Jazz in the STAPLES Center, point guard Chris Paul decided to gaze in the past to provide comfort for the future.
“Fortunately we’ve got a lot of guys in the locker room who had to do this a couple years ago,” said Paul. “We had to go into a tough environment, win a game, come back home and win Game 7.”
Paul is referencing the 2015 playoff series against the Spurs, where the Clippers found themselves in the same situation as they are in now against Utah, down 3-2, heading to the visitors’ home court.
In that series, the Clippers traveled to San Antonio for Game 6 and defeated the reigning champions, overcoming a shallow bench using defensive grit and strong second half performances between Paul and Blake Griffin. The two teams then traveled back to Los Angeles for Game 7, the biggest game in Clipper franchise history.
The game was a back-and-forth affair, tied at 109 with five seconds left. After injuring his hamstring in the first half, Paul hit an off-balance, odd angled floater not only to win the game, but to silence outspoken critics questioning the team. The Clippers became the second team since 1999 to defeat the defending champions in the first round.
The current roster holdovers from the Clippers that season include Paul, Jamal Crawford, Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick and Austin Rivers. All except the injured Griffin will play against Utah, barring unforeseen circumstances.
When asked if the team could take anything away from the 2015 San Antonio series, Paul said, “composure.”
Friday’s Game 6 is an elimination game for the Clippers, a team that is 4-4 in such games since Paul was traded to the Clippers. In those games, Paul has averaged an absurd 24 points, 10 assists and five rebounds. Throughout NBA history, the team with a 3-2 lead wins the series 84-percent of the time, a statistic many of the Clippers have been on the lesser side of.
“Jamal and I earlier were counting the times in our career we’ve been down 3-2 and won a series,” said Redick. “The mentality is, you can’t go to Utah and win two games.”
Luckily, the Clippers only need to win one game in Utah, where they won Game 3. If needed, Game 7 would be in Los Angeles.
To force a Game 7, the Clippers need to play their own style of game and quicken the pace. Since Rudy Gobert returned from injury, the Clippers have lost two straight, while Utah’s slower and bruting style has taken over.
“They’ve dictated the style of play,” said coach Doc Rivers.
Basically, the entire Clippers team has won playoff series before, using past experience to guide them this post-season, but Utah has a chance to win a playoff series for the first time since 2010, thanks in a large part to veterans Boris Diaw, George Hill, and Joe Johnson.
“I think, pretty simply, adding Joe and Boris and George has given some confidence to our group,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder. “That didn’t just happen in the Playoffs, that happened throughout the course of the year.”
The Jazz were one of the youngest teams in the league last year, narrowly missing the playoffs. During the offseason, Snyder added the three vets with hopes of them helping teach his young team. In the playoffs this year, the post-season inexperienced have deferred to the veterans for advice and big plays, especially Johnson, who has shot 80-percent in “clutch” situations.
“This is way different than a lot of us have been a part of, and so we’re trying to soak up the experiences, lean on some of the veterans, Joe, G, Boris, let them guide us a little bit,” said Gordon Hayward.
Heading into the spirited Vivint Smart Home Arena for Game 6, according to Rivers, both the Clippers and the Jazz are in a must-win scenario. If the Clippers are to come back from another 3-2 deficit, they’ll rely on veteran know-how, just as the Jazz are depending on theirs. Once again, the Clippers have a chance to silence national critics, however, Rivers believes focusing on the outcome is detrimental.
“If you do think about the results, or what’s going to happen before, and not the process, you lose,” said Rivers. “If you go into something thinking what happens if this happens, you’ve lost.”