Five Takeaways: Clippers Season Ends with 104-91 Game 7 Loss to Jazz
LOS ANGELES - A cutthroat series replete with last-second finishes, dramatic comebacks and expectation-defying outcomes ended with yet another curveball—a blowout for the road team in Game 7. The L.A. Clippers struggled to handle the Utah Jazz’s size, depth and double-teams on Chris Paul, and wound up with a season-ending 104-91 loss to the Utah Jazz on Sunday afternoon.
The Staples Center crowd came out in full force for their squad, but their support couldn’t stave off a third home loss for L.A. The Clippers’ top triplicate of Paul (13 points, nine assists), DeAndre Jordan (24 points, 17 rebounds) and Jamal Crawford (20 points, three assists) was no match for Utah’s seven double-figure scorers, led once again by Gordon Hayward’s game-high 26 points.
The defeat brings to a close a roller-coaster-of-a-2016-17 NBA campaign in L.A. From a blazing 14-2 start to a seven-game streak to finish the regular season, through the ups and downs of injuries to Paul, Blake Griffin and Austin Rivers in between, the Clippers once again kept things interesting at every turn.
The summer ahead figures to be chock-full of intrigue for this team. As many as nine Clippers could be bound for free agency, with Paul and Griffin potentially headlining a star-studded 2017 class should they decide to opt out of their current contracts by late June.
Quote of the Night
L.A.’s ending was particularly disappointing for CP3. He wound up with as many misses as points (13) amid a deluge of double teams and flailing limbs from Utah.
The nine-time All-Star will head into a potentially uncertain offseason on the heels of another postseason exit prior to the conference finals. Where many in his position might be dejected, Paul responded with measured perspective at the postgame podium.
“At the end of the day, it’s a game, and we all love it, know what I mean?” he reflected. “Like, you just keep pushing until it happens. It’s not going to change. Keep working, keep playing, keep training, doing all the different type stuff until you break through.”
1. Sharing is Caring
Every Game 7 is an animal unto itself, but head coach Doc Rivers hoped the Clippers would draw at least one lesson from their past experiences in winner-take-all contests.
“I think hopefully they all understand that as big as the game is, it’s still a team game,” he said, “and they’re not going to win without your teammates and playing with your teammates and trusting.”
At times, the Clippers seemed to forget the importance of playing together, particularly on the offensive end. L.A. went into the locker room at the half with more turnovers (eight) than assists (seven) and a seven-point deficit dug, in part, with the shovel of Utah’s 14 dimes to four giveaways.
The Clippers turned the ball over just twice in the second half, but finished with 17 assists—their fifth game in the series with fewer than 20 helpers.
“I thought we lost our trust a little bit,” Rivers said afterward.
And along with that trust went the flow of L.A.’s offense under the weight (and length) of Utah’s suffocating defense.
2. Rudy Phones in Favors
Game 7 featured some shades of Game 1.
Rudy Gobert (one point, four rebounds and six fouls in 13 minutes) played more than the one possession he logged in the series opener, but not by much. The wide-winged Frenchman was in foul trouble all day, leaving the Jazz to call on their bench early and often.
Not that Utah seemed to mind. Derrick Favors readily reprised his role as Gobert’s able stunt double. The Georgia Tech product came off the bench to log 17 points on everything from pick-and-pop jumpers and dump-off passes to putbacks and layups.
Favors’ big body also turned out to be a tough cover on the boards, with a team-high 11 rebounds. The 25-year-old fouled out in the fourth quarter, but not before helping Utah acrrue a 56-46 edge in paint points and a 46-38 advantage on the glass
The Clippers did what they could to take advantage of Utah’s thinning front line. DeAndre Jordan jammed all over the Jazz en route to team-highs in points (24) and rebounds (17). Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers and Raymond Felton showed little fear attacked off the bounce.
Favors, though, did his part to impede L.A.’s downhill runs. For the series, he averaged 10 points on 62.0 percent shooting with 6.4 rebounds in 26.3 minutes.
Not bad for a big man who battled through knee problems for much of the campaign.
3. Jazz Contain CP
Coming into Sunday, Chris Paul had been a bright leading light for the Clippers. Through the first six games of this series, he averaged 27.3 points, 10.0 assists and 5.2 rebounds while shooting 52.6 percent from the field, 41.9 percent from three and 90.6 percent from the free-throw line—numbers that nobody in NBA history had sustained in a single postseason.
L.A. had every reason to believe Paul’s exemplary play would continue in Game 7. In nine previous elimination games with the Clippers, he’d poured in 24.2 points, 9.7 assists and 4.7 rebounds while hitting 51.2 percent of his field-goal attempts.
“Where the competition or the stakes are higher, I think Chris is usually better,” Doc Rivers said.
Just not in this particular Game 7.
Paul gave his all on both ends of the floor. On one possession in the first half, he defended Joe Johnson on one side of the court then contested Gordon Hayward on the other. On another in the second half, Paul, the smallest person in the game, blocked Gobert, the tallest on either team.
The Jazz, though, seemed to solve CP3 with their own defense. They doubled and hedged on pick-and-rolls, contested him at every turn and generally made his life a nightmare on offense. Things didn’t get any easier for Paul after he tweaked his ankle in the third quarter.
“I think they did a good job tonight of shrinking the court,” he explained. “That means the big being up in the ball screen. It was sort of up tonight, not letting me get to my spots.”
The result: a series-low 13 points on 6-of-19 shooting (1-of-7 from three). He still led all comers in assists (nine), but with his teammates mostly coming up empty from beyond the arc (5-of-18 from three), his total fell short of where L.A. needed it to be.
4. JJ Fades Away
It took J.J. Redick more than 44 minutes of game time to hit from the field. His triple with 3:28 left was timely, cutting what had been a 21-point Clippers deficit down to eight, but his lone bucket turned out to be too little, too late. On L.A.’s next possession, Redick missed a driving layup that would’ve trimmed Utah’s lead back down to single digits.
That lone triple turned out to be his only score of the afternoon. Redick finished with three points on 1-of-5 shooting (1-of-2 from three), closing out a series in which Utah bottled up L.A.’s sharpshooter from start to finish.
All told, the 32-year-old averaged 9.1 points on 38.0 percent shooting during the series—his lowest outputs for a postseason since 2011. Utah’s size and length on the perimeter proved to be too much for Redick to handle, short-circuiting a Clippers offense whose success had long relied on his gravitational pull running around the floor to loosen up opposing defenses.
5. Truth and Reconciliation
Paul Pierce’s illustrious NBA career is officially over, but it didn’t end without one last bit of Truthiness. He started the second half in place of Luc Mbah a Moute (two points in 15 minutes) and came through with a three-pointer to slice Utah’s lead to seven points early in the third quarter.
The 39-year-old gave it a good go during his 22 minutes—his second-highest total of the entire season and largest load since late November. He finished with six points, three rebounds, an assist and a steal while doing his darndest to disrupt the 35-year-old Joe Johnson (10 points on 4-of-13 shooting, seven rebounds, five assists).
“I gave every ounce I could, each and every day,” Pierce said while sitting in front of his locker after the Game 7 loss. “And I have no regrets, even to the last day.”
The 19-year veteran finished among the top-20 all-time in points, both in the regular season (15th) and the playoffs (20th), to go with his 10 All-Star nods, four All-NBA selections, two trips to the Finals and one championship and Finals MVP trophy with the Boston Celtics in 2008.
Five years from now, the L.A. native figures to field a call from Springfield announcing his induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Until then, folks in Southern California can only hope to catch a glimpse of Pierce’s old-man game in the venue for which it always seemed destined: the local rec league, alongside all the other weekend warriors.