The L.A. Clippers came out of their stunning Game 1 loss with some clear objectives for Tuesday’s tete-a-tete against the Utah Jazz.
Shore up the weakside defense. Attack the interior on offense. Don’t let Joe Johnson get loose.
On all three fronts, L.A. improved dramatically during a 99-91 Game 2 win. The Clippers held the Jazz to 45.7 percent shooting, piled up 60 points in the paint and limited Johnson—who outscored L.A.’s bench on his own in Game 1, 21-20—to 13 points on 6-of-15 shooting.
Blake Griffin led all scorers with 24 points on 11-of-21 shooting. Chris Paul (21 points, 10 assists) and DeAndre Jordan (18 points, 15 rebounds) both logged double-doubles for the second time in as many tries in this series, despite fighting through foul trouble.
The Clippers will look to take a 2-1 lead on the Jazz this Friday, when Game 3 tips in Salt Lake City at 7:00 pm PT.
Quote of the Night
The Clippers made a point of puncturing the paint in Game 2 after winding up in essentially a stalemate during Game 1, despite Rudy Gobert going down on the very first possession. At his postgame press conference, head coach Doc Rivers was pleased to see not only that his team had a 22-point edge in the paint, but how it compiled that cushion.
“That’s what we should do. It was great,” he said. “We got it through movement. We went down hill a lot more tonight.”
1. Inside Out
The Clippers didn’t hesitate attacking the Jazz’s lack of rim protection this time around. With Gobert nursing his injuries from Game 1, L.A. went hard in the paint early and often, outscoring Utah 16-0 in the lane during the first quarter en route to a 60-38 advantage for the game.
Coming into the evening, Doc Rivers knew that his team would need to tenderize Utah’s stout defense with more than just the dribble, especially in Austin Rivers’ absence.
“We have to do it with more movement,” he said.
The Clippers certainly obliged. Chris Paul found DeAndre Jordan for lob after lob in an 18-point night for the All-Star center. Blake Griffin bullied his way to the bucket to boost his 24-point total. Even Paul Pierce (six points, two assists) took advantage of Gobert’s absence for a few slow-motion drives inside.
L.A. gave up nearly as many paint points on Tuesday (38) as it did on Saturday (42), but tilting the tables further in its own favor from the outset proved to be the difference for the Clippers, who outshot the Jazz 52.4 percent to 45.7 percent overall.
2. Glass Animals
Where the Clippers have thus far taken advantage of Gobert’s absence most consistently is on the backboard. After outrebounding Utah 40-34 and more than doubling up the visitors in second-chance points (21-10) in Game 1, L.A. came back to grab six more boards than the Jazz and turn eight offensive rebounds (to Utah’s three) into 13 second-chancers (to the opponents’ six).
In truth, the Clippers’ edge on the glass wasn’t all about Gobert. They were quicker to the ball from start to finish, playing with an energy and a sense of urgency that were both lacking at times in Game 1. Against a scrappy Utah squad, that kind of hustle is critical to survival, and will be even more so with the series shifting to Salt Lake City this weekend.
“That’s the only way we’re going to win this series,” Rivers said.
3. CP Gets Aggressive
Believe it or not, Chris Paul was actually more aggressive overall in Game 2 than he was in Game 1, despite scoring fewer points and taking fewer shots.
In Game 1, Paul waited until the fourth quarter to take over, tallying 12 of his 25 points on 5-of-8 shooting the final frame after attempting just two shots in the first. Come Game 2, he launched five looks in the opening quarter and five more in the third to help L.A. soften Utah’s defense before notching another seven points on five more attempts in the fourth.
Paul was just as pesky on the defensive end, hounding George Hill (12 points on 12 shots) and directing traffic from up top. On one sequence in the third quarter, he swatted Hill’s shot out of bounds then picked his pocket and drove it the other way for a layup.
4. Whistle Stops
How did Paul, who finished with a plus-minus rating of plus-9, manage to do so much in so little court time? Because he had to.
“Man, I was trying to just stay on the court, to tell you the truth,” Paul said.
The 31-year-old was dogged by foul trouble for much of the night. So was Jordan, who excelled with a plus-minus of plus-12 in 35 minutes before fouling out with less than a minute left in the fourth quarter—to a standing ovation, no less.
Had those two avoided the ire of the referees more often, L.A. might’ve run away with the game. Marreese Speights, DJ’s primary backup, scored seven points but wound up as a minus-4 overall next to his name. Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford, who assumed playmaking duties when Paul sat, were a minus-2 and a minus-6, respectively.
There’s nothing wrong with two of L.A.’s workhorses getting some much-needed rest ahead of a challenging trip to the Beehive State. But if the Clippers had their druthers, they’d clearly prefer to punish the Jazz at their own pace, without the officials adding their two cents to Rivers’ rotations.
5. Another Quiet Night for JJ
As well as the Clippers did to hang on at home on Tuesday, there’s still plenty of room for improvement beyond what Austin may bring to the table when his hamstring heals.
That begins with J.J. Redick, who had another quiet night with more fouls (five) than points (four). L.A.’s starting shooting guard, who took 35 percent of his regular-season shots during first quarters, didn’t log an attempt until the 4:15 mark of the second, when he drained a 21-footer off a Chris Paul pass.
This, after Redick racked up seven points on six shots in Game 1.
All told, Utah has used its length all over the floor to stifle L.A.’s perimeter game. Through two contests, the Clippers have hit just 31.8 percent (14-of-44) from beyond the arc.
Clearly, the Clips can survive without setting the nets ablaze from deep. But a bit of perimeter fire could make L.A. that much more dangerous if the team’s shooters are able to warm up going forward.