LOS ANGELES-Chris Paul needed help. He got very little. If there was one area of concern that stood out during the NBA first round playoff series between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz, scoring points from anyone else but Paul, became an absolute task.
Already a man down with Blake Griffin out for the season, the Clippers didn’t have enough offensive firepower to beat the Jazz four out of seven games. Game 7 turned out to be a cold reality for the NBA’s Western Conference Pacific Division’s fourth-seeded team.
Through the first six games, Paul tried to put the Clippers on his shoulders and vainly carry his teammates.
It simply wasn’t enough. By the time Game 7 rolled around, the Jazz had decided to make anyone else but Paul beat them. The plan worked for Quinn Synder’s team as Utah put the clamps on Paul as evident by his connecting on just six of 19 shots from the field.
Paul finished the game with 13 points and nine assists. Outside of De Andre Jordan’s 24 points and 17 rebounds and Jamal Crawford’s late shooting surge that added up to 20 points, the Clippers didn’t have another player crack double-digits.
“Well, they trapped him a lot, Clippers coach Doc Rivers said referring to the way the Jazz defended Paul. “Same thing they did last game to be honest. We didn’t get away, and we just didn’t move the ball great as a whole group. I thought CP (Chris Paul) was great overall. I thought he got a little tired. I thought a couple of guys did. In the first half, we had Raymond (Felton) at the table trying to get Austin (Rivers) off the floor because he clearly-was out of gas and we just had a short rotation. It was very difficult.”
It was also hard to swallow another early exit from the postseason for Rivers and his ballclub. Since taking over as head coach and president of basketball operations, Rivers has kept the expectations of the Clippers high with four 50 plus win seasons. But getting past the second round in a tough Western Conference has proven to be a challenge.
Injuries have debilitated the Clippers the last two postseason tries with Paul and Griffin getting knocked out of the playoffs in the first round against Portland last year. Griffin got bit by the injury bug again, this time a toe malady took him out for the playoff series against the Jazz.
Rivers, clearly exasperated in his postgame press conference, wasn’t in the mood to start to evaluating how successful or unsuccessful the team’s season was.
“I’m not thinking about that right now,” Rivers said. “I’m thinking about the loss and how disappointing it was for us and the fans. I thought-I will say our fans I thought were phenomenal tonight, even when we were down, they gave great energy. I thought our guys-we obviously came to play. I didn’t think we played very well offensively, and you know, though they shot 50 percent from the field, I thought a lot of that was from our bad offense. For me, that’s really disappointing.”
The questions have already begun. The answers won’t be coming until this summer. But the Clippers are going to have plenty to think about until then after their second straight first round playoff exit.
The Clippers saw their season come to an emphatic end that concluded with a whimper in a 104-91 closeout defeat in Game 7 at the hands of the Jazz at Staples Center. It was the third time in the series that the Jazz picked up a victory on the Clippers’ home floor.
There’s no way around this, but anytime a team have another team walk into their building and take three wins in a seven-games series, changes are going to come. With or without Griffin or not, this early postseason debacle only serves to point out that there will some kind of major shakeup to the Clippers roster.
It wasn’t too long ago the Clippers were enjoying national attention as they roiled the opposition with their high-flying dunk experience called “Lob City.” That is not the case these days. The team has gotten older and less proficient in ball movement while the rest of the league has gotten more athletic and younger.
Utah is a great example of this. Outside of their point guard position, Jazz players are lean, long, can run the floor, and can sit on the perimeter and knock down a 3-pointer if need be. That athleticism was a plus for the Jazz against the Clippers. The Jazz used their size to outrebound the Clippers in Game 7 by a margin of 46-38.
“Well, I think for us to have an opportunity to compete against a team that-the professionalism, the toughness, the experience, all those things, was a growth opportunity for us. The fact that we were able to play well enough to win tonight, obviously you’re please about that,” Snyder said.
When you examine the roster of the team, the Clippers resemble a lot like that older generation of Baby Boomers who have no clue what language millennials are talking in: they’re lost. Looking over the seven games of this series, the Clippers looked lost on offense, and played disappearing chairs on the defensive end.
Paul, like the true leader that he is, put the onus on himself to perform better when it matters.
“Man, I know I’ve got to be better,” Paul said. “I’ve got to be better, especially a Game 7 like this. I think they did a good job tonight of shrinking the court. That means the big being up in the ball screen. It was sort of up tonight, not letting me get to my spots and stuff like that. But for me, I’ve got to figure out ways to do that anyway.”