LOS ANGELES – The first-round playoff series between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz is about control.
The best-of-7 series is tied at one game apiece, and there’s a reason: Each club has managed to successfully control aspects of the game that it has needed to win.
The Clippers thirst to play faster and in transition, while the Jazz deliberately play as if their entire team were running offense while slogging through thick molasses.
Game 1 went to the Jazz, who held the Clippers to only 95 points, but needed a buzzer-beater from forward Joe Johnson to declare victory. But while the Clippers again scored under 100 points in Game 2, they played faster – “more downhill” as the team likes to call it – and with more aggression, allowing them to come away with a 99-91 victory.
“I liked the pace (in Game 2),” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said Wednesday in a conference call with reporters. “Obviously we want to keep increasing the pace. But I thought overall, it’s as good as it’s gonna be. (The Jazz) aren’t just gonna let you run on them. They’re a great defensive team. They control the pace with the ball, so you’re not gonna get as many opportunities to run. But I thought every opportunity we did have to run, or even just create pace, I thought we did it … for the most part.”
The Jazz want to control the 3-point shooting of Clippers guard J.J. Redick and reserve guard Jamal Crawford. Through two games, Utah has done just that.
Redick only shot six times in Game 2, and Crawford is shooting an icy 29.2% so far for the series. The two combined are just 1-of-14 from the 3-point line in the series.
While those numbers amount to staunch perimeter defense by the Jazz, Utah head coach Quin Snyder said after Tuesday’s Game 2 that those low percentages “probably” won’t continue as the series goes on.
“I think there’s an awareness that our guys have that they’re both really good players and hopefully … we can kind of continue to make it hard on them,” Synder said of Redick and Crawford. “But realistically, both of them are gonna break out at some point.”
To advance to the second round, both Utah and Los Angeles need to control the lane, but it in different ways. With Jazz center Rudy Gobert sidelined after suffering a hyperextension and bone bruise to his left knee, the Jazz struggled to keep the Clippers out of the paint on Tuesday.
The Clippers, meanwhile, don’t have to worry about Gobert’s shot-blocking ability or pick-and-roll defense, which allowed them to feast inside in Game 2. Los Angeles scored 60 points in the paint on Tuesday, compared to just 40 in Game 1.
“That was where we struggled defensively, whether it was the pick-and-roll or penetration or Blake Griffin,” Snyder said. “We just gotta find other ways to protect the paint. But that’s the challenge.”
With Games 3 and 4 in Salt Lake City, the Clippers will look to control the comfort of a Jazz team that went 29-12 at home in the regular season. Clippers guard Chris Paul said Thursday at practice that his team will have to limit Utah’s runs and keep the raucous home crowd out of it “as much as possible.”
“Obviously, everyone’s always a lot more comfortable playing at home,” Paul said, “but we gotta try to disrupt that.”
Game 3 is tonight at 7 p.m.