Saturday, December 28, 2013
Rapid Reaction: Clippers 98, Jazz 90
By Jovan Buha Special to ESPNLosAngeles.com
LOS ANGELES -- When asked before Saturday's game about how the emotional wear and tear of losing back-to-back games to two of the West's elite teams would affect the Los Angeles Clippers' performance against the lowly Utah Jazz, coach Doc Rivers provided a stock answer.
"Before the season they put 82 games on the schedule, and you have to be ready for 82 games," Rivers said. "Some guys may be tired. It could be tonight; it could be the next game. In those games, you hope somebody else picks it up for them. That's why it's a team game."
With his teammates combining to shoot 22-of-57 (38.6 percent) from the field, Blake Griffin (a season-high 40 points, 13-of-20 shooting) had no choice but to be the one to pick them up in the Clippers' 98-90 victory over the Jazz. It was the third time in four games Griffin scored 32 or more points, as the Clippers continually exploited his physical advantages against Utah's undersized frontcourt.
Ultimately, the Clippers' clutch defense secured the win.
Los Angeles held the Jazz scoreless over the final 2 minutes, 31 seconds, turning a 90-90 game into an eight-point win. Utah managed only 90 points on 42.1 percent shooting, which continues the month-long trend toward the Clippers holding opponents to double-digit point totals.
How it happened: Griffin picked up two early fouls and played only 14 minutes in the first half, which disrupted the Clippers' offense and lineup rotation. Without its key offensive cog, L.A. was largely sloppy and stagnant on that end of the floor, shooting only 41 percent (0-of-6 on 3-pointers) and trailing 43-42 at halftime. Griffin (14 first-half points) and Chris Paul (13) were the only Clippers in a groove, and the duo continued the damage in the second half.
A 9-0 run midway through the third stretched the Clippers' lead to a game-high nine points, but Utah closed the quarter on a 7-1 run to trail 68-65 heading into the fourth. In that quarter, the Clippers used a steady diet of Griffin post-ups and drives to withstand Utah's resiliency. Paul's steal and kickout to Jamal Crawford for a corner 3-pointer with 2:00 left gave L.A. a 95-90 lead and clinched the game.
What it means: There isn't much to take away from a win over the worst team (record-wise) in the loaded Western Conference. The Clippers took care of business on their home floor, and probably should have won by more. Still, Griffin's emergence as a nightly 30-point threat is legitimate, and that should scare the rest of the NBA.
Hits: Griffin (40 points, 10 rebounds) and Paul (21 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists) continued where they left off in the Golden State and Portland games as perhaps the game's best big-little combination.
The Clippers shot 25-of-32 (78.1 percent) on free throws.
L.A. shot just 3-of-14 (21.4 percent) from beyond the arc.
Stat of the game: 17. That was the disparity in transition as the Clippers (25 fast-break points) were able to create easier buckets than the Jazz (eight points), which ultimately swung the game.
Up next: A familiar face returns to Staples Center on Monday, as the Clippers (21-11) face Eric Bledsoe and the Phoenix Suns (18-11) for the first time this season. Bledsoe has broken out as a potential All-Star in his new starting role, averaging 18.4 points (49 percent shooting), 6.0 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals in 33.5 minutes.