There was an odd feel within Staples Center before the game had tipped off. The air felt incredibly thick. The air conditioning, noticeably felt as it tried to cut through the warmth in the stands, had little to no effect. Rudy Gobert, who had won the opening tip, had to be helped off the floor just seconds later. And for the remainder of the 48 minutes, neither team found a rhythm offensively.
As the game closed on Joe Johnson’s late-game heroics, what remained was the sense of a lost opportunity by the Clippers to capitalize on the absence of Utah’s star center.
Could the Clippers have double-teamed as time began to wind down and it looked more likely that Johnson was embracing his “ISO” moniker for the last shot? Hours earlier, the Cavaliers employed that strategy to get the ball out of Paul George’s hands, forcing Indiana’s chances to rest in the hands of C.J. Miles. In that situation, though, Cleveland had the ability to set up their defense after a time out. These Clippers, with their season-long woes defending in transition, had no such luck.
Was there some gamesmanship on Quin Snyder’s part to not call a timeout after Chris Paul’s floater tied the game? Is it fair to be critical of Jamal Crawford’s defense in the closing moments? The answer to both of those things can be “yes,” and it’s also worth noting that even had a better defender been on the floor, that may not have changed the strategy from Utah considering the Clippers have allowed more points in transition than on timeouts for the season.
— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) April 16, 2017
To reach the point where the game could be decided on a single possession, though, one has to look back at how mightily the Clippers offense, which ranked first in offensive rating among all NBA teams in the month of April, had struggled for most of the game. On halfcourt possessions, the Clippers only averaged 0.33 points per possession. J.J. Redick appeared to have trouble breaking free from a larger defender in Joe Ingles. There also appeared to be very little utilization of DeAndre Jordan rolling towards the basket, especially against a Jazz team that suddenly found themselves missing one of the league’s best rim protectors.
Yes, it all amounts to a bad loss, but it’s worth reminding that it is only one loss in a best-of-seven series. Blake Griffin alludes to this during the Sunday shootaround, mentioning that the team has bbeen ahead in series that the Clippers have lost, but also having lost the first game in a series that they ended up winning. The offense did indeed struggle, but it’s worth noting that when Chris Paul and Blake Griffin has been healthy, the Doc Rivers’ coached Clippers have not had an offensive rating in the playoffs lower than 105.9 – far higher than the 99.5 rating from Game 1 of this current series.
Shootaround Sound 🔊 | Blake Griffin addresses the media following today's practice. pic.twitter.com/m1VlRoPNjy
— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) April 16, 2017
Is it fair to be hyperbolic about the outcome of a single game, though? Perhaps the sentiment embodies the overall apprehension about what would happen to this team if they once again see an early playoff demise. With a past filled with as many disappointments as there are dead characters played by Sean Bean, it’s understandable that so many would immediately jump towards the worst-case scenario.
That said, it’s still just one game.