On the edge of elimination, the Clippers traveled to Salt Lake City and won behind a marvelous Chris Paul performance, forcing a Game 7 on Sunday.
The Clippers led by 14 points in the fourth quarter, before a furious Jazz rally that closed the lead to three points. On the Jazz’s final possession, DeAndre Jordan coerced Joe Johnson to attempt, and miss, a tough three pointer that would have tied the game.
Here are five quick takeaways from the Clippers’ 98-93 win.
1) Point God wills Clippers to victory- Whatever the Clippers needed, Chris Paul provided. In the slow, methodical first half, Paul paced the Clippers with 15 points, scoring mostly with his midrange, elbow jumper. In the third quarter, Paul’s savvy forced Quin Snyder to sit Joe Ingles and swindled three free throws from a George Hill reach. Then, Paul ignited a third quarter run with his passing. Coming out of a timeout with the Jazz faithful chanting, Paul ran off a Jordan screen, then fed the big man with a dunk to silence the crowd. Paul went on to record three more assists during a 13-2 run, with his energy and will spreading to the rest of the team. When the Jazz made a late push, Paul crossed up his defender, and finished with a nifty lefty layup, doing his best to keep the game out of reach.
Paul almost played a perfect game, but admitted to making “boneheaded plays” late in the game as he turned the ball over twice, allowing the Jazz to close the Clippers’ lead to three points.
The Point God finished the game 29 points and eight assists, and iced the game with two free throws to put the Clippers up five with a second left.
2) Rivers starts, bench excels – In an attempt to strengthen the Clippers perimeter defense and provide a secondary ball handler, Austin Rivers was inserted as the starting small forward, replacing Marreese Speights and sliding Mbah a Moute to the power forward position. Rivers ended the game with 13 points on 50-percent shooting, and more importantly played 35 minutes, one game removed from his minutes restriction. In the second half, Rivers found his groove, drilling three three-pointers, his biggest happening at the 1:29 minute mark.
With Speights in his usual role off the bench, he drove a second half 18-8 run with the rest of the bench unit while Paul and Jordan sat. In the previous games, when the two All-Stars sat, the bench usually struggled. Tonight, the entire bench mob outplayed the the Jazz bench, with every player finishing with a positive plus/minus, none higher than Jamal Crawford’s plus-19. All of Crawford’s five baskets came in the second half, and Raymond Felton’s bullish defense provided a spark. Paul Pierce’s statline of three points, three rebounds and one assist is not the most striking, but the playoff veteran made simple winning plays.
3) Clippers defense force Jazz to go cold – Through 45 minutes the Clippers’ defense was fierce, restricting the Jazz to only 79 points. Utah had trouble generating open looks, and DeAndre Jordan rebounded well, not allowing many second chance opportunities. Chaos ensued over the final three minutes, as the Jazz scored 14 points to bring the game within three. Despite the late rally, the Clippers strong defense was the reason for the win. The Jazz collectively shot 41-percent from the field, and only 27-percent from range. Joe Johnson mustered only nine points, a series low. With the addition of Rivers into the starting lineup, the team rotations improved, consistently challenging Jazz shooters, best displayed by Jordan’s remarkable end-of-game defensive stand on Johnson.
4) Luc Mbah a Moute delivers on both ends – Known for his defense, the ninth year pro took advantage of open offensive opportunities, producing 13 points, lifting the Clippers offense. During Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan pick-and-rolls, Mbah a Moute’s primary defender rotated over, leaving him unguarded. When Mbah a Moute got the ball, he confidently stepped into his jump shot or drove to the paint and finished in the lane. Just as important as his offense, Mbah a Moute helped limit Hayward’s production. Hayward finished with 31 points, thanks in part to a late, personal 7-0 run late in the the fourth quarter, but throughout the game never found his rhythm, shooting contested jumper after contested jumper.
5) Gobert rolls ankle – Coinciding with the Clippers third quarter run was another Gobert injury. Gobert visibly was not moving as well, with a jerky gait and a lower activity level. Gobert subbed out and the Clippers built an eight point lead. When the center subbed back in with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter, he managed only two minutes before heading to the bench for the duration of the game. Gobert’s health will be something to keep an eye heading into Game 7.