From the opening tip to the final buzzer, Game 1 between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz had fans at Staples Center clinging to the edge of their seats.
Despite losing starting center Rudy Gobert to a hyperextended left knee at the outset, Utah managed to pull out a gutsy 97-95 win on the road, with veteran Joe Johnson scoring the final bucket at the buzzer.
Blake Griffin tallied just six of his game-high 26 points in the second half as the Jazz clamped down defensively inside. Chris Paul piled up 25 points—including the tying shot with 13 seconds left—along with 11 assists, seven rebounds and three steals. DeAndre Jordan (10 points, 15 boards, three blocks) notched his 18th double-double in 51 career playoff games.
Utah finished with four players in double figures, including Johnson and Derrick Favors, Gobert’s replacement, off the bench.
The Clippers will now turn their attention to Game 2, which is slated for Tuesday at 7:30 pm PT.
Quotes of the Night
L.A. finished the 2016-17 regular season on a seven-game winning streak to secure the No. 4 seed and home-court advantage in the first round. With one loss, the Clippers now find themselves having to fight back from an 0-1 series deficit with the Jazz owning the home edge.
“We fought all year to get it,” head coach Doc Rivers said after the game. “Now we’ve given it right back.”
1. Gobert’s Absence Does LA No Favors
The first-round fates of the Clippers and Jazz looked like they might could come down to the very first possession of the very first game.
Just 17 seconds into his playoff debut, Gobert went down in a heap after knocking knees with LA’s Luc Mbah a Moute. The 7’3” center did not return after he was diagnosed with a left knee sprain and later left Staples Center to undergo a precautionary MRI, which revealed a hyperextended knee but no structural damage.
Favors, Utah’s first big off the bench, then picked up two quick fouls. So did Jeff Withey, the next man up in the Jazz’s rotation.
The Clippers won the rebounding battle, 40-34, but struggled to find space against Favors’ defense. The oft-injured pivot was a physical presence throughout, helping to keep L.A.’s frontcourt at bay and converting quick interior passes into points.
Favors, who missed the last two regular-season meetings between the Jazz and Clippers, finished with 15 points, six rebounds, two assists and, presumably, a host of kudos from his Utah teammates in the locker room.
2. Iso Joe Plays Hero
The biggest moment of the night, though, belonged to Johnson. With 13 seconds to go and the score tied at 95, the seven-time All-Star pushed the ball up the floor without calling timeout and lobbed it up for the game-winning hoop.
Johnson, 35, had burned the Clippers all night long. With Luc Mbah a Moute blanketing Gordon Hayward early on, Johnson poured in 14 of his team-high 21 points in the first half.
Mbah a Moute spent more time on Johnson after halftime, opening things up for Hayward to drop 10 of his 19 points in the third quarter. In the final frame, Johnson took control again, accounting for each of Utah’s final three field goals en route to stealing one at Staples Center.
Johnson and Hayward got plenty of time on the court together as the Jazz played small ball to cope without Gobert. The onus will be on the Clippers in Game 2 to turn the tables on Utah’s makeshift solution to what initially appeared to be a pivotal problem.
3. Jazz Dominate Bench Battle
Without Austin Rivers’ energy and attacking ability, the Clippers’ reserves came up well short of their Jazz counterparts. Utah’s bench outscored L.A.’s, 47-20, and would’ve owned the edge even if Johnson had been the only Jazz sub to get buckets.
Jamal Crawford, who finished with a team-best plus-minus of plus-12, had plenty of pep in his step and no trouble getting into the lane. But he shot just 4-of-12 from the floor and had a tough time keeping up with Johnson late on defensive switches.
Marreese Speights hit a pair of threes, though the time he spent on the floor with Griffin didn’t give the Clippers much lift up front. Raymond Felton (four points on 2-of-4 shooting) was effective at times defending Utah’s bigger perimeter players.
All told, the Clippers sorely missed the typical burst they get from the younger Rivers, whose hamstring injury will keep him out of the rotation until at least Game 3.
4. CP Attempts Late-Game Takeover
L.A.’s loss didn’t come without a valiant effort from Chris Paul. He scored 10 straight Clippers points to keep his team close in the fourth quarter, then hit the game-tying layup with 13 seconds to go before Johnson answered on the other end.
Paul, who finished with 25 points, switched gears between halves. Of his game-high 11 assists, 10 came before the break. He got his scoring touch going with eight points in the third to jumpstart an otherwise bogged-down Clippers offense.
Normally, Paul’s aggression on offense leads to quality outcomes for L.A. During the 2016-17 season, the Clippers won eight of 10 games in which CP scored 25 or more points. His ability to pick and choose his spots between sharing and scoring will dictate L.A.’s offensive output against Utah’s suffocating defense.
5. Clippers’ Turnover Troubles
The Clippers might have taken advantage of Gobert’s early exit had they also taken better care of the ball, particularly in the first half.
L.A. gave the ball away 10 times before the break for 16 Utah points. The Jazz’s thicket of arms and legs gave the Clippers fits up top, with Johnson and Joe Ingles (eight points, two steals) turning picked pockets into easy baskets on the other end.
Griffin and J.J. Redick combined for 10 of L.A.’s 16 total turnovers, due in part to Utah packing the paint for Blake’s drives and post-ups.
Throw in 44.4 percent shooting for the Clippers, and all in all, it was far from an exemplary offensive night for the home team, which hadn’t scored 95 points or fewer since a loss in Dallas on March 23.