With Rudy Gobert, the Jazz should have been the favorite – with or without homecourt advantage. Without Gobert, or homecourt advantage, are the Jazz still the favorites?
Not even a full minute into his playoff debut, Gobert suffered an unfortunate knee sprain that will keep him out for Game 2 and possibly longer than that. A tough blow for Utah, losing the league’s leader in blocks per game this season – the captain of their defense – and yet they did not fold as many would have expected.
During the regular season, Jazz had a +8.1 net rating with Gobert and a -2.9 without him in the lineup – that’s an 11 point +/- differential. Yet, Utah still managed to come out of Game 1 with a 1-0 lead on L.A. thanks to Iso Joe.
Joe Johnson ended the game with a team-high 21 points (including a buzzer-beater over DeAndre Jordan) on 9-14 from the field along with three boards, assists, and steals. His veteran presense was huge for the Jazz.
Utah’s veteran additions this offseason are proving to be smart moves. George Hill, Boris Diaw, and Joe Johnson have all had long, storied careers in the league thus far and bring a lot playoff experience to a team that was otherwise lacking in that department.
While Utah is returning to the postseason for the first time in five years (when their All-Star Gordon Hayward shot less than 20% and averaged just seven points in four games) Los Angeles is back again for the sixth straight year.
As much as returns to the postseason for one team after a five-year absence and another for the sixth straight year sound like things to be celebrating, each team has their reasons to be anxious. Hayward, Paul, Blake Griffin, J.J. Redick, and Luc Mbah a Moute could all end up on different teams this summer.
While it is the postseason and each team is in the dogfight that is the NBA Playoffs, the potential of losing All-Star caliber talent this offseason is hard for any franchise to avoid obsessing over.
As for Game 1, it showed NBA fans what to expect from this series without Gobert playing. Utah will spread the floor and continue to use what got them this far, to begin with – defense and finding the open man. In the meantime, Doc Rivers will look for an answer to Utah’s small ball lineup.
Chris Paul played an excellent game, coming alive in the second half and ending with a stat line of 25 points, 11 assists, seven rebounds, and three steals. He even tied the score at 95 with a drive to the hoop in the Clippers’ final possession.
In the first half, Blake Griffin played fantastic – but the second half was a whole different story. Traditionally Griffin isn’t a good fourth quarter player, this regular season he averaged just 3.2 points in the last twelve minutes. His only points in the fourth Saturday night, came from two free throws.
The Clippers will need him to step up in the end of games this series if they want to win.
Hayward played fairly well for his fifth career playoff start, scoring 19 points and pulling down 10 boards. He also picked up three assists and a steal.
Utah’s best strength, aside from their defense, is that they can rely on contributions from several players.
Derrick Favors played a great game following Gobert’s injury. He played 32(!) minutes, went 7-10 and ended with 15 points and six boards.
Now Utah can’t rely on Iso Joe having another remarkable performance for them to win. Though Johnson’s eighth buzzer beater in last ten years, most in the league in that span, is nothing short of remarkable.
Look to see Joe Ingles shoot better than his 1-5 from behind the arc in Game 1. Statistically speaking, L.A. should be worried about Ingles. He shot 44% on threes, good for fourth best of those qualified for that stat in the NBA.
Prediction for Game 2: each side will make adjustments. Ultimately I think Paul showing up more on the scoring sheet all game long instead of just the second half could lead to a tied series.
Though don’t doubt Quinn Snyder as he is a capable coach with a versatile roster. Look for Hayward to step up, along with players like Hill, Johnson, Ingles, and Diaw to play a part in this game.
Tightly contested game, but ultimately this is do or die for L.A. We may be lucky enough to get another buzzer beater in Game 2. This time, I’d expect it to be CP3.