The Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Clippers are about to play in the Playoff’s only Game 7 of the first round. Unlike other teams that initially gave their higher seeded opponent’s trouble (the Milwaukee Bucks and the Chicago Bulls), there is no clearly superior opponent between the Jazz and Clippers. There have been moments throughout the series where each team has looked dominant, yet for the most part, the series has been evenly matched. Who will win Game 7 is not clear as the series has gone back and forth.
The Jazz have weathered the early loss of center Rudy Gobert and the Clippers have, at least somewhat, righted the ship after losing forward Blake Griffin for the remainder of the playoffs. Unlike Griffin’s injury, the Jazz have since seen Gobert return. Unfortunately, Gobert suffered an ankle sprain in Game 6 and down the stretch looked somewhat ineffective and limited. There is no indication that Gobert will miss Game 7, and you have to imagine that he will play even if he is limited by his injury.
Fortunately for the Clippers, guard Austin Rivers returned from injury and seems to be effective again. In Game 5 it looked as if Rivers played with a minutes restriction and showed the predicable rust from having played his first game in a few weeks. In Game 6, Rivers not only played 34 minutes but he shot well, including hitting three of his three-point attempts after being inserted into the starting lineup. Rivers provides the Clippers with a secondary ball handler and playmaker they’ve sorely needed since Griffin went down.
Coaching has been critical this series. In Game 5, Jazz head coach Quin Snyder executed an offensive game plan that featured plenty of pick and roll sets, utilizing multiple ball handlers. Behind this approach, the Jazz generated effective ball movement, which had the Clippers defense scrambling. In Game 6, the Clippers adjusted and were able to prevent the Jazz from getting as many open three-point looks. Rivers provided an additional defender to place on forward Gordon Hayward – a nice boost in addition to serving as another scorer and penetrator. The importance of River’s return can’t be understated. Rivers’ defense on Hayward allowed the Clippers to defend Joe Johnson with Luc Mbah Moute. The Clippers ability to effectively defend Johnson, which included more effective double teams, contributed to the Clippers ability to take Game 6 in Utah.
Unfortunately for the Jazz, they now face the collective spotlight of the league after failing to eliminate the Clippers in Utah. Fans and critics will be watching to see if this young team can win a Game 7 on the road. The Jazz will have to hope that key role players such as guard Rodney Hood and forward Joe Ingles, who didn’t play well in Game 6, step up for this key game. As an experienced veteran, Johnson has been huge for the Jazz but the Clippers may have finally figured out how to contain him. With experienced veteran Boris Diaw only playing 14 minutes in G6, who can face the pressure for the Jazz and help them come up with a big win on the road? Look for George Hill and especially Hayward to face the pressure and try to will their team to victory.
With the series going back to Los Angeles, the question becomes who succumbs to the pressure. By winning Game 6, the Clippers have already overcome the predicted demise of Lob City, which many predicted would come to an inglorious end in Utah. Now back in Los Angeles, the Clippers have to overcome the usual pressure they feel regarding their previous playoff failures. The high pick and roll between Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan continues to be effective as the foundation of the Clippers’ offense, which the Jazz have yet to lock down. Look for Paul, who has been the best player of this series so far, to once again step up and do everything he can to prevent the Clippers from once again being sent home early in the playoffs.
Who Wins Game 7?
The Clippers take Game 7 and the series.
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