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Game 6 Preview: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Utah Jazz

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After losing Blake Griffin for the remainder of the playoffs in Game 3, the Clippers were pleased to have guard Austin Rivers back for a pivotal Game 5 match-up at Staples Center on Tuesday night. Obviously, injuries have been a major factor in this series.

In the first quarter of game 5, the Clippers trusted Rivers to guard Gordon Hayward, who immediately scored on Rivers. The Clippers then used point guard Chris Paul on Hayward. Outside of defensive specialist Luc Mbah a Moute, the Clippers lack players equipped with the ability to match up with Utah’s bigger wing players. This has been a problem the Clippers have struggled with throughout the series.

The Jazz quickly showed the versatility of their roster. Nearly all of their rotation players are mobile and capable playmakers with a mandate to attack, move the ball and get the Clippers backpedaling on defense. The Clippers were able to come away with a two-point lead after the first quarter, aided by a stretch where the Jazz missed eight straight shots.

Both teams struggled from the field, especially early in this game. However, J.J. Redick, who has been held in check this entire series, adjusted by using the attention on the perimeter to drive the lane for a couple of floaters that opened up his game a little bit.  But the Clippers had trouble generating points consistently unless Paul was on the court and aggressively orchestrating the offense. Aggressive ball movement by the Jazz and uneven defensive execution by the Clippers gave the Jazz open shots on the perimeter all night long. In contrast, the Clippers looked increasingly dependent on Paul setting up nearly every play. Without Griffin, the lack of consistent additional playmakers is obvious.

Throughout the game, the Jazz appeared poised to go on a run that would effectively end the game. To the Clippers credit, they continued to keep the game close. Whenever it seemed as though Utah would create some distance, Paul would manufacture some scoring opportunities and keep the Clippers within striking distance.

The Jazz went into the fourth quarter up six as the result of a buzzer-beating dunk by Hayward and a few clutch shots from Joe Johnson. Despite how close the game was at this point, the Clippers necessarily tried to give Paul a rest to start the fourth quarter. However, after the Jazz scored the quarter’s first basket, Paul immediately returned to the game. The Jazz continued to pull away with an 11-point lead until Redick pushed back with five straight free throws to save the Clippers in a stretch when the team had one field goal in 11 minutes.  Paul then tied the game at 69 with two straight three-pointers.

With the Jazz up two, they once again used a screen that placed Jamal Crawford on Hayward. Credit to the Jazz for effectively forcing the Clippers’ defenders to switch, which resulted in favorable shots for Hayward and Johnson throughout the game and in the fourth quarter. Although Hayward missed, in the scramble the Jazz got the offensive rebound and passed out to Johnson who hit a huge three.

With the game coming down to the wire, Clippers needed a stop. Instead, they double teamed George Hill 35 feet from the basket, which led to Johnson being left open for a jumper which proved to the dagger.

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Although the Jazz never really broke free of the Clippers in Game 5, they looked like the more talented and deeper team for the majority of the game. Look for the Jazz to use a similar game plan and to continue to rely on excellent bench production, defensive execution and great ball movement in Game 6. Additionally, Utah will likely continue feeding Johnson in clutch situations as the Clippers have yet to figure out how to effectively guard him in isolation. The Jazz are going back to Salt Lake City with momentum on their side.

Going forward, the Clippers need to find more ball movement and an additional playmaker on offense. Perhaps Rivers can provide some additional playmaking in Game 6, though that is a lot to ask for a player coming off of a significant hamstring injury. Paul has played exceptionally well in this series and the Clippers will need him to be at his absolute best to avoid elimination in Game 6. Considering how limited the rest of the Clippers’ squad looked in Game 5, Paul best still may not be enough.

Who Wins Game 6?

Jazz win Game 6 and the series.

 

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About James Blancarte

James Blancarte

James Blancarte is a writer for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney based in Los Angeles, California.