The saying goes, “Gobert or go home.” The meaning of those words often eludes even Jazz Nation faithful, but game two against the Clippers may have shed some light on it. The Jazz do indeed now head back home after their lackluster defensive performance highlighted the void left behind by the injured Rudy Gobert.
No one enjoyed that extra space more than DeAndre Jordan. He set up camp in the paint early, throwing down four dunks and ten points in the first quarter alone. He couldn’t have done it without Chris Paul, who came out focused and firing, scoring or assisting on the Clippers’ first seven of eight field goals. Less than impressive help defensive rotations by Boris Diaw and Derrick Favors were also appreciated by the Clippers. Fortunately for the Jazz, Paul picked up two early offensive fouls, which sent him pouting to the bench in true Clippers fashion. The Jazz didn’t capitalize on his absence though, failing to attempt a single shot in the paint in the first quarter. They did manage to go four for seven from distance, including two from Hayward, which kept them just eleven points behind to close the quarter, but it felt like a more substantial deficit. Every thunderous DJ dunk seemed like it was worth three points–two for putting the ball through the hoop and one for the collective wounded ego that almost audibly eeked out “But if Rudy were here…”
In the second quarter the Jazz settled into their offense with a more aggressive balanced attack that had Joe Johnson and Rodney Hood working their way into the paint for some floaters. However, the Jazz never quite found their rotation on defense. Blake Griffin bullied whoever was guarding him, curling off a screen perfectly to shake Favors, splitting the raised arms of Ingles and Diaw or simply backing Joe Johnson into no man’s land for two, totaling nine points in the quarter. The Jazz trailed by nine to close the half.
To start the third quarter the Jazz cut the Clippers’ lead to three with a 10-2 run with a strange sequence of Boris Diaw playmaking, a steal, and sudden burst of offensive confidence until Chris Paul stepped in to stop the bleeding. He nailed a three ball, blocked George Hill from behind, and stole the ball from Hill on the following possession and took it to the other end for a layup to put the Clippers back up by eight–all this within about 30 seconds of playing clock. The Jazz interior defense struggled to help, like when Joe Johnson took the bait on a Paul Pierce pass fake and Pierce cruised to the cup like a red carpet was rolled out before him and laid it in– two of the Clipper’s astounding 60 points in the paint for the game.
The game never felt as close as it was, but give the Jazz credit, it was within reach. They cut the lead back down to six several times in the closing minutes of the game. A George Hill layup with five minutes and eleven seconds remaining in the fourth quarter was quieted by a Chris Paul three to extend the lead back to nine. Joe Ingles answered with a three of his own to bring it back down to six, but Chris Paul would have none of it, hitting a dagger fadeaway jumper the Jazz would never recover from. Paul finished with 21 points, ten rebounds and three steals. The Jazz remained within striking distance with, but they almost seemed surprised that their fight had kept them in the game. The most bizarre moment that punctuated this disbelief came when George Hill slowed the ball down to talk to an official with about two minutes remaining rather than pushing the ball to score. Despite a hard-earned 20 points and six rebounds from Gordon Hayward the Jazz were ultimately handed a 99-91 defeat.
The moral victory is that the Jazz still give themselves a chance to play with just about any team even without Gobert. But any moral victory that can be taken from a Gobert-less playoff loss frankly just isn’t as fun as an actual win, but it’s something. Hopefully the “Gobert or go home” thing isn’t an actual either/or principle. Can we get Gobert and go home please? The otherworldly force that he is gives me cause to believe he transcends traditional recovery time. Game three of playoff basketball in Utah in three days, homers, and Chris Paul knows they won’t be in LA anymore.