The Los Angeles Clippers went into the NBA Playoffs as one of the league’s hottest teams. They had won their last seven games of the regular season and, in so doing, had secured home court against the Utah Jazz. In addition, the Clippers had won three of four match-ups this season against the Jazz and had a tremendous advantage in overall playoff experience. Finally, Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert suffered a hyperextended knee, knocking him out of the game 11 seconds into the first quarter. So, what could possibly go wrong for the Clippers?
Following a hot start for forward Blake Griffin, the Clippers led for most of the first half of the game. Yet they failed to capitalize on the absence of Gobert, and once the Jazz began to build momentum going into the second half, they took control of the game and held on for a tight finish.
By losing Game 1 of the series, the Clippers have given back home court to the Jazz who, even with a game 2 loss, would be happy to split the first two games after losing Gobert. The Jazz now have an opportunity to host the Clippers in Utah and maintain home court advantage.
What can the Clippers do to improve? Receive more consistent production from Griffin and point guard Chris Paul. Griffin (26 points, seven rebounds and three assists) had a hot start in the first half, but only scored two points in the fourth quarter. Paul (25 points, seven rebounds and 11 assists) needs to balance his attack and not hesitate to look to score the ball early, as he will usually wait until much later in the game to be aggressive with his own offense. In addition, the Clippers will need to find ways to unlock guard J.J. Redick (seven points and 1-3 on three-pointers), who found himself guarded quite effectively by Jazz forward Joe Ingles.
Looking at the Jazz, they likely needed to win this game to have a realistic chance to win the series after quickly losing Gobert. The Clippers never looked quite right in the game, and yet they could have stolen it if things had broken differently at the end of the fourth quarter. Based on the extent of the knee injury, Gobert could be out for the remainder of the series. As the Clippers fully adjust to the absence of Defensive Player of the Year candidate Gobert, look for LA to try and expose the lack of a dominant back line presence.
To continue to play well, they will need to rely on their team defense to get by without Gobert. Derrick Favors, as he did in game one, can slide quite well into the center position as he has done at times throughout the regular season. The concern for the Jazz is his health, as he has dealt with lingering knee problems during the regular season. If Favors is unable to play or is suddenly ineffective due to knee issues, the Jazz will be forced to scramble their line-ups. Forward Gordon Hayward was quiet yet effective, with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Look for him to continue to produce. Finally, veteran forward Joe Johnson, 21 points, who hit the buzzer beating game one winning shot, will continue to be relied upon.
Who Wins Game 2?
The Clippers miss the bench production and the ability to attack the from back-up guard Austin Rivers. Despite his continued absence, look for the Clippers to regroup and adjust to the Gobert-less Jazz at home. The Clippers win Game 2 and tie the series before heading to Utah.
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