Jazz End Clippers Playoff Hopes in Blowout Victory

April 5th, 2018 | by Clint Johnson

The Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell enjoys Utah’s easy 117 – 95 home victory over the Los Angeles Clippers, their fourth straight, as they retained the fourth seed in the Western Conference playoff race. (CaliSportNews)

Story of the Game

In a meaningful home game, a playoff team looking for home-court advantage should decisively handle a team outside the playoff seeding looking in. That’s exactly what the Utah Jazz, currently sitting at fourth in the Western Conference playoff standing, did to the Los Angeles Clippers in their 117 – 95 victory, for all intents and purposes ending LA’s unlikely hopes for the post-season.

Utah dominated the first quarter, shooting 57 percent and making eight free throws to earn a 10-point lead by quarter’s end. Ricky Rubio’s sore hip flared up and soon after Jae Crowder was poked in the eye. Neither returned to the game. 

It didn’t matter in the least. Utah’s defense smothered the Clipper offense, switching on screens and sticking on shooters throughout the shot clock, leaving LA little but poor shots out of isolation with few seconds left on the clock. Meanwhile, Utah’s offense kept humming, upping the lead to 16 at halftime, and eventually to 94 – 67 by the end of the third. The rest of the game was officially garbage time.

The Clippers had managed only 39-percent shooting from the field and an anemic 19 percent from three. Outscoring Utah by five in the throwaway fourth quarter did nothing to obscure that seven of Jazz players scored in double figures in the game, led by Donovan Mitchell’s 19, with two other players scoring eight or more. 

The domination was thorough, extended to all aspects of the game, and, like Utah did last year in the first round of the playoffs, pointedly ended the Clippers’s aspirations for the season.

Stars of the Game

Superstar: Rudy Gobert (15 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 3 blocks)

Utah so thoroughly overwhelmed their outclassed opponent, no Jazz player was really called upon to do too much on their own. Yet it was Utah’s defense that stole the Clippers’s heart, and that defense is rooted in the Stifle Tower. Against DeAndre Jordan,  historically a difficult matchup for Gobert, Utah’s All-NBA center easily won the duel, nearly doubling Jordan’s point total, shooting a perfect six for six from the field, and adding in four dispiriting offensive rebounds. With Gobert on the floor, Utah allowed only 87.8 points per 100 possessions, which is just another feather in the cap of this season’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Secondary Stars: Donovan Mitchell (19 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal) and Dante Exum (10 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 blocks, 1 three)

Mitchell buried the Clippers right out of the gate, scoring 13 points in the first quarter and ending the half with 17. The easy win required little of the Rookie of the Year candidate in the second half, resulting in his playing fewer than 30 minutes for the first time since February 5th. Adding five each rebounds and steals, while only taking 15 shots for his 19 points, totals a very solid 28-minute outing.

Exum’s 24 minutes played were his second-most this season, and he continued to provide ample impact while on the court. Exum continues to gather assists with greater rapidity than any other player on the team, while his scoring is more consistent than ever before in his career. Moreover, he’s added another impact defender to Quin Snyder’s stable of stoppers, a unique physical specimen capable of keeping in front of even the fastest NBA guards yet also able to block seven-foot-three Boban Marjanovic’s dunk attempt:

Secret Star: Royce O’Neale (8 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 three)

While O’Neale’s stat line is solid, his defense carried far more weight this game. Lou Williams is having a career year scoring nearly 23 points per game. He almost single-handled brought the Clippers back against the Spurs recently with a fourth-quarter scoring explosion. Tonight, Williams was largely a non-factor, scoring only 12 on 12 shots and turning the ball over four times. He was minus-17 while on the court, and most of that was while matched up against O’Neale. There was no way this limited Clippers team could beat Utah without Williams going off, and O’Neale, who may be the best defensive bench player in the league, never allowed a moment where that might happen. 

Stats of the Game

36.4 – Utah’s net rating, the difference between their offensive (126.5) and defensive (90.1) ratings in points per 100 possessions.

20 – Jazz points off turnovers to the Clippers’s eight, an area LA had to win to have a chance in this game.

0 – Lead changes or ties as Utah scored first and never looked back.

9 – Turnovers by Utah, tied for their seventh lowest total of the season.

3 – Jazz players with five or more assists: Ingles (9), Mitchell (5), and Exum (5).

59 percent – Utah’s effective field goal rate in the game.

Sundries

  • The Clippers looked done tonight. Utah’s dominance was so complete that pretty early in this game, LA had clearly given up, not just on the game but on the so-slight playoff chance they had entering the contest. DeAndre Jordan only played 21 minutes, and several times he didn’t even bother running down the court. It’s amazing this team stayed so close to post-season position for as long as they did, but when Utah got them discouraged they basically imploded.
  • Joe Ingles quietly had another nine assists tonight. He’s become an intriguing hybrid of Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. Not as good as either of them, but still a vital cog that offers a unique combination of skills. Ingles ability to both stretch the floor, which he’s lethal at, and orchestrate offense when the ball isn’t in Rubio or Mitchell’s hands, makes him so incredibly important to this team. He’s not only justified his new contract, it’s probably been a bargain this season.
  • With Rubio out and Mitchell getting uncommon rest, Alec Burks received 17-minutes of court time, his most since February 3rd. He responded by hitting three threes and scoring 13 points, adding in two rebounds and an assist. It’s been great to see him make it through an entire NBA season healthy. While this season has made pretty clear that his future will likely be somewhere other than on the Jazz, it’s also reinforced that he does have an NBA future as a quality contributor, which is great to see.
  • David Stockton played in the arena his father made into one of the more hallowed halls of basketball, and Jazz fans, so notorious throughout the league, marked his walk onto the court with prolific cheers. Those cheers rang out again as Stockton made a three late in garbage time.
  • Defense grows in importance in the playoffs, and Utah’s defense is terrifying. Their starters include the all-but-certain Defensive Player in the Year in Gobert, three players who have earned All-Defensive buzz in their careers in Favors, Ingles, and Rubio, and an above-average defensive guard in Mitchell. Then off the bench come four more All-Defense caliber players: Crowder, O’Neale, Udoh, and Exum. There is literally no weak link defensively in those nine players.  

It seems a bit like piling on that the Jazz, the team who ended Lob City by ousting the Clippers from the playoffs last year, may have finishing the last residue of that team by ending their playoff hopes tonight. DeAndre Jordan has often been rumored to be destined to be moved out of LA,  and tonight he certainly looked like his commitment to the team has waned. I don’t think it would surprise anyone if the Clippers finally traded him and committed fully to a rebuild.

But not the Jazz. Many suggested they do that following Gordon Hayward’s dramatic jilting of the team that made him an All-Star. The Jazz decided they wanted home court in the first round of the playoffs instead. As of now, they have it by a full game over the Spurs and Thunder. They’ll try to hold onto it against the Lakers on Sunday. 

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson is a professional author, writing educator, and editor. He teaches writing at Salt Lake Community College. A frequent presenter at both writing and educational conferences, he writes about the Jazz as a break from his other writing work.
Clint Johnson

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3 Comments

  1. John Jenkins says:

    Thanks Clint! Great read as always. Love how you always tell the defensive stalwarts. Defense becomes paramount in the playoffs! Mitchell and Ezum could become hated adversaries by opposing coaches. Resign Derrick.

    • derek says:

      Agreed, we need to start the please stay favors chants now.

      • Clint Johnson says:

        I think Exum may be potentially huge. One of the few vulnerabilities Utah’s defense has is stopping quick guards. If Exum can fill that gap, it will be even harder for teams to force the Jazz out of their preferred defensive stance with Gobert near the hoop.

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