LOS ANGELES-Chris Paul was determined not to let the Los Angeles Clippers fall flat on their backs and lose the opening salvo of their first round playoff series against the Utah Jazz. He tried but he didn’t succeed.
Paul scored nearly half of the Clippers’ 25 points in the fourth quarter, including lifting a floater off the backboard with 13. 1 seconds left in the ballgame to tie the Jazz at 95-95, and give the Clippers an opportunity to take the Staples Center home momentum into overtime.
Paul and the Clippers never got that opportunity. With time winding down in regulation, Joe Johnson drove unimpeded in the paint and threw up a soft jumper that danced around the rim for a few tantalizing moments before going through the net just as the buzzer sounded to give the Jazz a 97-95 upset win.
Just like that, the Clippers no longer hold the home court advantage. And just like that, Paul and the Clippers now find themselves down 0-1 in the series and con fronted with the fact of having to play desperate basketball to try to even the score before they hit the road for Game 3 and Game 4 in Utah.
For now, Game 2 looms as a must-win situation for the Clippers. Blame the Jazz and their rugged defense. Utah kept things boxed in all night and held the Clippers to 44 percent shooting from the field. Unfortunately, it was one of those games for the Clippers. Jamal Crawford missed eight of his 12 shots on the night.
Blake Griffin scored 26 points, but did so connecting on 9 of 21 field goal attempts. J. J. Redick made half of his six shots in 27 minutes of action. That’s not exactly a recip0e for playoff success.
“Yeah, you lose the first game, and obviously, you want to win all your home games, Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “We fought until the end of the year to give it, now we’ve given it right back. It’s Game 1. I thought give them credit. I thought they played well under adverse conditions with (Rudy) Gobert going down. In some ways that helped them. They got small and stretched the floor, which hurt us a little bit, and we didn’t played great. We really didn’t, offensively or defensively.”
Rivers’ team had to scratch and claw their way to the home court advantage scenario. The Clippers had to win eight of their last 10 games of the season to land the home court edge. Johnson’s game-winning floater over the outstretched arms of DeAndre Jordan and Crawford saw to it that the Clippers will have a hole to climb out of in the very near future.
“Honestly, I was supposed to take the ball out, but I think Fave just kind of took the ball out and I was open, and I seen George coming, trying to get the ball with CP (Chris Paul) chasing him,” Johnson said. “So I just brought the ball up, and I remember Joe Ingles setting a pick, got Jamal Crawford on me, and I just seen the clock doing down, so I knew I had to make a play. I just wanted to get as close as I could to the basket, and it was a good thing it went down.”
The Clippers were down by as many as eight points in the fourth quarter before Paul went out and cleared space to go into attack mode, stroking mid-range jumpers and driving to the basket against the heavy traffic rotation of Utah defenders. It wasn’t enough. The defeat at home didn’t leave Clippers with any warm feelings, Paul said.
“It ain’t great, obviously,” Paul said. “In a seven-game series, they took home-court advantage. It sucks that we lost, and to tell you the truth, we’ve sucked pretty bad here at home-in the playoffs anyway. We lost, I think, most of the series, the home games. No we’ve got to see what we’re made of.”