It took one full game and another three days to stew on it, but it feels as though the Los Angeles Clippers have manifested the idea that the Utah Jazz have a 7-1, 245 lb. hole in the epicenter of their defense as the Clippers shot 33 times at the rim and made 27 of them–a 24-point difference from Game 1. De’Andre Jordan was a monster, posting 18 points and 15 rebounds with seven “where’s your big at?” dunks, and Blake Griffin chipped in another 24 points with 15 of his 21 shots coming in the restricted area.
While Jordan and Griffin made the majority of the highlight plays, it was Chris Paul who dissected the Jazz’s defense sans-Gobert like a surgeon. Utah typically plays a conservative, they have enough stout and flexible defenders to play man and switch when needed as Gobert’s hulking presence in the paint helps clean up any mistakes on the front end.
But without him, the Jazz’s perimeter defenders are forced to play with very little margin for error, and Utah simply has no real answers for plays like this one.
Here the Jazz lose Paul for a split second as he comes off a double screen set by Redick and Jordan, forcing Favors to help off Jordan at the nail. With Boris Diaw as the only other Utah big on the court, the Jazz have no one to prevent the lob to Jordan. This happened over and over again as Paul broke down his man and forced help to come from the paint.
When Utah decided not to try and corral CP off the pick and roll he punished them in all the ways Chris Paul can in the midrange, shooting 9 for 15 from the field for 21 points. Plays like this are also why Redick’s subdued performance (2 for 7 for four points) didn’t matter as much, as his role as decoy shooter scared the Jazz enough to continually stretch their defense in order to stick with him. This might be where Utah makes their adjustments headed into game 3. The Jazz have done an excellent job stymying the Clippers three point shooting thus far in the series (31.8 percent) but it has come at the cost of all these Jordan dunks. Utah may take their chances selling out on the Clippers shooters in order to shore up the paint, hoping they might go cold on the road.
“You know, you’re giving something up, and the pressure that they put on the rim was significant tonight,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder told ESPN. “We were not helping off [Redick and Crawford]. It’s just there’s a physical advantage around the rim.”
However none of these potential counters offer the kind of panacea the Jazz need for their defense to completely stop the Clippers. And, as demoralizing as it is to get dunked on over and over again, giving up a potential three point barrage as an alternative is a good way to usher in a blowout the Clippers couldn’t quite achieve in this game. That said there remain some areas of concern for the Clippers heading into Utah with the series tied 1-1. The Jazz are torching the Clippers any time a two man combo of Crawford, Felton, Pierce, and Speights share the court. And while the bench played well offensively in spurts in game 2, history has told us that this cannot be relied upon.
Still, despite disappointing in game 1 it’s clear that the Clippers have done what they needed to put the pressure back on the Jazz to adjust to Gobert’s absence. Whatever strategy Utah chooses for game 3 there will be something for Chris Paul and the gang to exploit. As it always is with these Clippers, execution will be the determining factor going forward.