Healthy for the first time all series, the Utah Jazz were able to roll past the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 5, 96-92, giving them a 3-2 advantage for the series.
Really, you can substitute “healthy for the first time all series” with “healthy for the first time all season” and you would have the same effect.
It’s been a rough campaign for the Utah Jazz, who were without starters George Hill and Derrick Favors for much of the regular season before losing Rudy Gobert in Game 1 of the playoffs. Gordon Hayward even got in on the action, missing most of Game 4 due to a bout with food poisoning.
Through it all, Utah managed to pull out a 51 win season and, coming into Tuesday night’s matchup, were knotted up at 2-2 in their first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers.
With Hill and Favors both healthy, as well as Gobert returning to action in Game 4 and Hayward seemingly surviving his stomach bug, maybe the biggest question for the Jazz coming into Game 5 was how this team would play if they were actually healthy. After all, the Hill-Joe Ingles-Hayward-Favors-Gobert unit that would start Game 5 played only 148 minutes together this season. Would there be kinks to work out? How much chemistry could five guys who had barely shared the floor together muster?
Apparently, enough to throttle the Clippers.
The score won’t say it, but the Jazz largely dominated LA in Game 5, bending the game to their will and dictating its pace. The Clippers struggled to get into their fast-paced, lob-city scheme and were instead forced to play to Utah’s slower, more methodical approach.
It’s not like the Clippers can’t play that type of style; when you have Chris Paul as your point guard, you can pretty much play whatever style you want. Slow down Paul and he can just carve through your defense thanks to a variety of screens from Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, or find JJ Reddick springing open for a catch-and-shoot triple.
But with Blake Griffin breaking his toe in Game 3, Los Angeles lacked the offensive ability to consistently create open shots in the halfcourt while simultaneously losing a major factor in the transition game. For much of Game 5, the Clippers offense looked like they were handcuffed, simply unable to create good shots.
It’s the fourth quarter of a playoff game! In a tied series! And Chris Paul, for some reason, nearly hands the ball directly to Joe Ingles before giving it off to Mo Speights, who promptly throws it out of bounds.
Maybe it’s Ingles full-court pressure finally wearing CP3 down. Maybe it’s the fact that Utah boasts the best defense in the NBA, something that can eventually beat an opposing team down. Or maybe it’s Griffin, the only other top-tier offensive threat on the roster, being out for the series. Whatever it is, the Clippers offense simply looked out of sync for the most part in Game 5.
The Jazz have done an excellent job of taking away Paul’s role players all series and without Griffin, the Clippers offense simply lacks the talent to contend with out strong performances from those secondary players.
Jamal Crawford, for example, has gone an astounding 13-for-42 from the field in this series, not including his 9-for-13, 25 point outburst in Game 4. In Game 5, he went just 2-for-8 and completely disappeared in the second half, thanks in large part to a tough matchup provided by the suddenly rejuvenated Rodney Hood.
Hood caught fire with back-to-back big buckets at the end of Game 4 and the confidence really carried over to Game 5, finishing with 16 points and playing strong defense throughout. Here, he stays right in J-Craw’s jersey, forcing a bad shot that even the incredible Crawford can’t finish.
Redick has had similar struggles this series, largely thanks to the defense provided by Joe Ingles and George Hill. Ingles has had a breakout series and is long enough (and savvy enough) to deny Redick the ball when he comes off screens, while Hill is quick enough to keep up with him on his off-ball movements.
Utah’s stout defense led to a brutal 10-for-29 shooting mark for Redick in the series’ first four games, including only 4-for-15 on 3-pointers. In Game 5, Redick got it going for 26 points on 7-for-12 shooting and was particularly a big help for Paul down the stretch:
With no Griffin, the Clippers really can’t afford on-and-off performances from Crawford and Redick.
Luc Mbah a Moute and DeAndre Jordan are essentially dead in the water offensively when it comes to creating their own shot, so Crawford’s handle and Redick’s ability to create open catch and shoots will be major factors in Games 5 and 6.
Without them both operating on all cylinders, Paul likely won’t be able to overcome Utah’s swarming defense by himself. This is a crucial series for the Clippers and if they lose it, the franchise’s future is suddenly much foggier.
Is CP3 back next year? Is Blake? JJ?
It’s hard to say exactly, but the remainder of this series will help to dictate the answers to those questions.
But then again, if Joe Johnson keeps eviscerating Steve Ballmer and the entire city of Los Angeles every night, who even cares.
Every night! 35-year-old Joe Johnson does this ish every night! On this fact alone, it might be time to tear apart this Clippers core.