Game 4 Preview: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Utah Jazz

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The Utah Jazz opened up Game 3 on their home court with a defensive stop and a Gordon Hayward jumper. The Utah crowd exploded in cheers, showing just how eager the Jazz fan base is and has been for postseason success. Through the majority of the game, it looked as though Utah would get its first home playoff victory since April 30, 2010.

Utah jumped out to a 34-21 lead by the end of the first quarter, powered by 21 points from Hayward (eclipsing his point totals in Games 1 and 2). Hayward benefitted from consistent and effective screens from his teammates, which helped him get away from Luc Mbah a Moute, who had stifled him in the first two games of the series. An 11-0 run put the Jazz up 14 until Marresse Speights hit a tough jumper.

Blake Griffin was effective early for the Clippers. He scored in transition, from three-point range, in the post and seemed active and engaged. However, with less than four minutes to go in the first half, Griffin appeared to land awkwardly and left the game to be evaluated in the locker room. It was later reported that Griffin suffered a toe injury that would keep him out for the remainder of Game 3 and the remainder of the postseason.

In the absence of Griffin, Clippers head coach Doc Rivers relied on contributions from a few role players, including veteran Paul Pierce. Pierce wasn’t particularly effective on either end of the court, but he wasn’t a major liability for the Clippers either.

The Clippers were seemingly about to take the lead late in the third quarter, but Hayward got DeAndre Jordan one-on-one and drove the lane for a massive dunk and a foul (he hit the free throw). He then hit a deep three-pointer, which was matched by Mbah a Moute on the other end. Hayward then turned the ball over, which resulted in free throws for Jordan that he surprisingly knocked down to tie the game at 82 with roughly a minute left in the third quarter. Hayward would go on to score another basket that would give the Jazz an 84-82 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

With both Griffin and Rudy Gobert out, it felt as though either team could go on a run that would result in a Game 3 victory. Paul seemingly understood this and took matters into his own hands in the fourth quarter. Raul Neto scored a quick five points in the opening sequence of the fourth quarter, giving Utah a 91-86 lead. Paul soon after returned to the court and went to work.

The Clippers went on a 15-0 run, with Paul scoring nine of those points in a row. He first hit a huge three-pointer with roughly four minutes left in the game to give the Clippers a 97-96 lead. Paul then split the Utah defense from the top of the three-point line and got to the rim for an uncontested layup. Paul then got a floater in traffic and another floater off of a Jordan screen to give the Clippers a commanding seven-point lead. Joe Johnson ended the Clippers’ run with a big bucket that cut the Clippers’ lead to five. Utah then scored some late buckets to keep the game close, but ultimately failed to close the gap. Behind the brilliance of Paul, the Clippers won the game 111-106.

“He has an amazing will,” Coach Rivers said after the game. “He’s just a tough guy. He’s stubborn in a very, very positive way. All the great ones have that in them. They’re stubborn like they aren’t going to lose.”

With the loss of Griffin, Paul is going to have to be as stubborn and dominant as he ever has been to guide the Clippers past Utah in this series. With Gobert and Griffin both out, each team now can devise game plans to adjust accordingly. Expect the Clippers to fill Griffin’s void with a combination of Speights, Pierce and Wesley Johnson. Los Angeles will likely rely on a heavy dose of Paul-Jordan high pick and roll action, surrounded by three-point shooters. This approach has been effective in the past when Griffin has missed time, but it won’t completely make up for the loss of the versatile forward. Utah will look to continue generating space for Hayward while limiting what Paul can do by throwing long defenders at him and running him through screens.

Who Wins Game 4?

The Clippers will feast on the Paul-Jordan pick and roll, which will unleash their three-point shooting. Hayward won’t be able to replicate his efficient scoring as Mbah a Moute hounds him throughout Game 4. The game will come down to the wire, but the Clippers will pull out a crucial Game 4 victory to take a commanding 3-1 series lead.