SALT LAKE CITY – The Clippers took a 2-1 series leading, winning in Utah 111-106, rallying from a 14 point first half deficit without Blake Griffin, who left the game with a toe injury.
Here are five quick takeaways from the Clippers victory.
1) Chris Paul leads second half comeback – The Jazz opened the game with a different defensive scheme, putting Joe Ingles on Paul, and stayed with the strategy whenever the two’s minutes aligned.
Paul was solid in the first half, scoring 10 points, but in the second half after Griffin was ruled out, Paul switched into “Point God” mode. He scored 24 points and directed the Clippers offense whenever he was on the court, running off DeAndre Jordan screens and utilizing his mesmerizing handles to create space. Paul attacked the paint relentlessly, and when his defender sagged off, he’d shoot with confidence. Many of Jordan’s 17 points resulted from screen and rolls, as Paul sucked in the help defense.
With 4:01 left in the game, and the Clippers down 94-96, Paul took over “winning time”, personally outscoring the Jazz 13-10 to regain back home court advantage.
2) Blake Griffin injured – Following a second quarter timeout at the 3:32 mark, Griffin slammed his hand on a chair and walked to the locker room, clearly in disgust. Up to that point, Griffin led the team in scoring with 11 points. The Jazz radio quoted Griffin saying, “it’s worse than I thought.” Griffin never returned, and per Clippers PR, he suffered a bruised right big toe.
Speights started the second half in place of Griffin, which trickled into extended time for Paul Pierce. Pierce played 21 minutes, the second most minutes he had all season, and did not score a point, but did grab three rebounds and a steal.
Griffin will continue to be evaluated before Game 4.
3) Gordon Hayward goes berserk in the first quarter – Hayward struggled in the first two games of the series, shooting only 36-percent. A lot of national media discussed the need for Hayward to play better if Utah was to win the series. Hayward responded with the best quarter of his career, scoring a blistering 21 points, animating the hometown crowd. He shot 7-of-8 from the field, getting buckets in all sorts of way: backdoor cuts, running off of screens and off the dribble. The Jazz All-Star was perfect from behind the arc, make all three of his three pointers. His primary defender, Luc Mbah a Moute, could be seen talking with teammates, asking for help navigating through all the screens. Hayward matched the entire Clippers team in the first quarter with 21 points.
While Hayward finished the game with 40 points, eight rebounds and four assists, he scored only one basket in the 4th quarter.
3) Felton and Speights strong second quarter keeps game within reach –
After the first quarter and the Hayward explosion, the Jazz were up 34-21. The Clippers started the next period with a bench unit guided by Raymond Felton and Marreese Speights. Felton scored seven points, which at the time was a team high, but more importantly provided an influx of energy to a Clippers team down early in enemy territory. Felton escaped for a few easy buckets that helped silence the crowd.
Speights brought his usual confidence and activity, and like Felton, the timeliness of his impact could not have been greater. Speights scored five points and added a steal and a block. The second unit, along with Griffin, cut the deficit to two at one point.
5) Jazz deadly from deep-
Without Rudy Gobert, the Jazz rotation shrank, in depth and height. One result of smaller lineups is usually more shooters on the court, and tonight the Jazz made 14 three pointers, doubling the Clippers’ seven. The Jazz’s early lead was thanks in large part to Hayward and Ingles making a combined five three pointers. In the second half as the Clippers rallied, the Jazz stayed ahead with an unlikely clutch trey from Raul Neto. The Jazz attempted 34 field goals from behind the arc, by far the most of this series.
Conversely, the Clippers shot only 19 three’s, making seven. While in the previous two games Ingles was assigned to J.J. Redick, tonight Redick was guarded by George Hill, who did a fabulous chasing and hugging the Clippers’ sharpshooter. Redick made only one three, and was the only Clipper starter to not score in double figures. This was Redick’s third straight game not reaching the 10 point mark.