Slice it any way you want, even with Rudy Gobert sitting behind the bench in street clothes, this was a horrendous loss for the Jazz.
On the verge of going up one game in the best-of-seven series and putting the pressure on the historically underachieving Los Angeles Clippers, it was the Jazz who wilted. Spurred on by a dominant performance down the stretch by star guard Chris Paul, the Clippers beat the Jazz 111-106 to take a 2-1 lead on Friday at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
“He’s just a tough, tough guy,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers. “His energy kind of rubbed off on everybody on the team.”
Even the Gobert injury that has kept him out of this series can’t be used entirely as a reason this time. Not when the Clippers lost Blake Griffin for the second half with a toe injury and already being without injured guard Austin Rivers, who also hasn’t played in this series.
As important as Gobert has been to the team’s success this season, Jazz seemingly got a break not having Griffin and Rivers, the coach’s son. The only possible argument to be made is the Clippers know how to play without the oft-injured Griffin.
As usual in these cases, there was plenty of blame to go around.
The Jazz had no answer for Paul in the second half, during which he scored 22 points. He had 13 points – and no assists, incidentally — in the fourth quarter, leading the Clippers on a 15-0 run.
“He always seems to rise to the occasion in big games,” said Clippers guard JJ Redick. “He was spectacular in the second half.”
The Jazz had a deadly combination of playing well on both ends of the court in the fourth quarter. The Jazz went five minutes without a field goal precisely when the game was being decided.
Even when they were unguarded, the Jazz couldn’t come through when it counted. In the final two minutes Derek Favors missed two free throws and Boris Diaw followed by clanking one.
This one hurts. Really bad.
“Hats off to them for making plays,” a despondent Jazz coach Quin Snyder said.
In addition to squandering the home-court advantage that earned by winning Game 1 last week in Los Angeles, the Jazz also wasted a record-setting performance from Gordon Hayward.
Shaking off two subpar performances – for him, anyway – in the first two playoff games, Hayward was absolutely brilliant most of the game, scoring a franchise-high 21 points in the first quarter and finishing with 40 points.
Hayward’s outburst was all part of the game way Snyder and staff designed for the team’s most potent offensive weapon. Instead settling into the game and working as a facilitator, Hayward only had one objective – score and score some more.
Going forward, the positive sign is Hayward’s aggressiveness to start the game. His breakout playoff game something he and the Jazz can build on.
Unfortunately for the Jazz, Hayward couldn’t match Paul in the fourth quarter. Hayward’s only field in the fourth quarter came with 11 seconds left in the game to go along with three free throws.
“We feel for us,” Snyder said. “Gordon’s our leader out there on the court. He had a big game, but it just shows you there are other things to do.”
Obviously, though, regardless of Griffin’s and Rivers’ status, the Jazz desperately missed Gobert’s ability to rebound. The Clippers won the rebounding battle 41-27, a margin that would not have been nearly as sizable with Gobert in the game.
“They scored on the same play five times,” said Joe Ingles. “Down the stretch, that’s when we need to be really good and not just OK.”
The loss sets up a virtual must-win Sunday night for the Jazz, who can’t afford to go down 3-1 in the series and have any chance to advance. A win could change the outlook for the Jazz, even if it is only temporary.
“Either way, it’s going to a big game, win or lose (Game 3),” Ingles said. “It sucks to lose.”