SALT LAKE CITY — Three thoughts on the Jazz's 114-108 win over the Los Angeles Clippers from KSL.com's Utah Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Jazz figure out how to score against the Clippers
In two previous matchups against the Clippers this season, it seemed like the Jazz couldn't do anything against the Clippers' style of defense. DeAndre Jordan protected the rim too well, Chris Paul frustrated the Jazz on the perimeter, and it almost seemed like the Clippers knew exactly what the Jazz were going to do and then short circuited it, forcing bad shots. That meant abysmal scoring totals: 72 points in one game, 75 in the other.
Tonight, the Jazz actually scored well throughout the game! Obviously 114 points is great, but they also never really had long stretches when they couldn't score, which led them to stay in the game even when the defense couldn't figure out how to stop Paul.
Obviously, we have to look at the shooting percentage as the big reason why: the Jazz hit 14 of their 21 3-point shots tonight, by far their best percentage of the season. Before tonight, their best shooting performance was against the lowly Sixers, when they went 11-19 (57 percent). 67 percent is a big jump from that, and an even bigger jump from 37 percent, their season average.
The Clippers felt a little bit unlucky with the Jazz's shooting. After the game, head coach Doc Rivers said "You can give a team tomorrow those same shots and most teams won't make them all." Blake Griffin added, "The guys that you want taking threes hit threes."
Is that shooting sustainable? No way. But after being beaten by some good shooting nights by other teams recently, the Jazz finally had one themselves. But I do think that the Jazz largely did get good shots, especially in the third quarter, when they totaled 40 points in 23 possessions. The Jazz only missed four shots that entire quarter, and two of them were offensive rebounded.
If you want, you can watch all of the Jazz's third quarter shots here. They're mostly really good looks that the Jazz are getting. A lot of them are from George Hill getting separation coming off of screens from Rudy Gobert: he had 10 screen assists tonight, which is a very good number. To give you some context, Marcin Gortat leads the NBA in screen assists with 6.6 per game. Rudy's second with 6.0 per game. That's an aspect that was clearly missing against Oklahoma City, and one that the Jazz were happy to have tonight.
2. Jazz's mismatches aren't exactly that
The other big aspect of tonight's game was how they figured out how to stop the Clippers in the fourth quarter. In the first three quarters, the Jazz allowed the Clippers to score 128 points per 100 possessions. In the fourth quarter, the Jazz slowed that to 90 points per 100 possessions.
I thought the key was incredible teamwork and communication from the Jazz to cover advantages gained by the Clippers, then the individual players staying tough in matchups that looked like mismatches.
The Clippers finished the game with Paul, Austin Rivers, J.J. Redick, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, while the Jazz finished with Hill, Rodney Hood, Gordon Hayward, Joe Johnson, and Rudy Gobert. Looking at those two lineups, you'd expect there to be a couple of matchups that would be bad for the Jazz. First, one of Hood or Hayward has to chase around Redick around picks set to free him up. Redick is the very best in the league at that, and for Hayward and Hood to keep up with their larger bodies is hard. Secondly, Blake Griffin is one of the most effective post players in the league, and 6-foot-7 wingman Joe Johnson had to guard him, for the most part.
So how did the Jazz deal with it? By switching all over the floor, helping and stunting very frequently, and generally defending as a unit.
Here's a couple of examples. First, here's Hayward using his strength to stop Griffin, then not biting on any of his fakes, as immortalized in gif form by CBS Sports.
And then here's great work by the Jazz's two nominal bigs in this lineup, Johnson and Gobert. They get switched out on Rivers and Paul, and keep them in front, leading to difficult looks late in the shot clock:
Joe Johnson stays in front of Austin Rivers, forces a missed shot: pic.twitter.com/oJDK5EwfJU — Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) March 14, 2017
> Rudy Gobert stays in front of Chris Paul, forces a pass and a missed shot: [pic.twitter.com/s2KdjhWiLq](https://t.co/s2KdjhWiLq) > > — Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) [March 14, 2017](https://twitter.com/andyblarsen/status/841514745203159041)
I wish I could show whole possessions, because the Jazz had to do their homework early in the shot clock to get the plays to where they ended up. It was really well done, and a big difference maker as the Jazz held on to their lead.
3. Playoff intensity at Vivint Arena
That may have been my favorite game of the season in just how well both teams played. We saw the very best of the NBA tonight in Salt Lake City: superstars like Paul doing incredible things with the ball (he scored 33 points, and that feels like it undersells his impact). For the Jazz, we saw Hayward at his best: incredibly efficient scoring (27 points on 18 shots) and overall team play (a team-high +11). We saw Gobert impact the paint and finish some great lobs.
We saw role players for both teams step up. I'm a firm Austin Rivers hater, but he was great tonight, scoring 15 points on 6-11 shooting. Joe Ingles scored 18 and led the Jazz on the floor for stretches while Hayward and Hood were out. Boris Diaw, Dante Exum, and Jeff Withey were great in their roles.
We saw old-school physical play, including some skirmishes.
Chris Paul assessed technical foul for shoving Rudy Gobert. Remember this for when two teams play each other next month Round 1 pic.twitter.com/EEPqBtmm7G — Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) March 14, 2017
These teams clearly don't like each other much. About Gobert, Paul said, "I'm not worried about him. He talks a lot. He can play, but he just talks a lot."
And then the second half atmosphere inside Vivint Arena was electric. "The crowd was amazing," Ingles said. When it gets that loud inside the building, it really impacts the game: offenses take longer to set up, defenses tighten up, and you can physically feel the energy inside.
It was a playoff game in every way other than the date on the calendar. That's fitting, considering that it's looking extremely likely that these two teams will indeed play in the first round.
About the potential matchup, Austin Rivers said, "It's going to be a physical series. Hostile series. They're a really good team, they got good players. I would imagine it would be a physical, really physical series. I think they're looking forward to it. We're looking forward to it."
After tonight, I think we all are.