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The Roundup—Jazz 97, Clippers 95
The beginning couldn't have been worse. The ending couldn't have been better.
An injury to star center Rudy Gobert and a buzzer-beater by veteran Joe Johnson bookended a thrilling 97-95 win that gave the Utah Jazz a 1-0 series lead over the LA Clippers in the opening round of the NBA Playoffs.
After a regular season that was defined by the team's resiliency in the face of numerous injuries, it took only 17 seconds for the Jazz to confront perhaps their toughest challenge yet—a potentially serious injury to Gobert. On the first possession of the game, Gobert suffered a left knee sprain when he was run into by LA's Luc Mbah A Moute. He did not return, and his status moving forward is up in the air.
Without Gobert, Utah adjusted on the fly—Derrick Favors played more than expected, and the Jazz spread the floor with smaller, more versatile lineups. It became a matchup of Utah's superior depth versus LA's star-studded but top-heavy rotation.
"Our big fella went down, but we made up for it with a lot of effort—a lot of hustle plays," Johnson said. "We've just got to keep fighting, man. Keep fighting, keep believing."
Johnson scored a team-high 21 points, the final two coming when he bounced in the game-winner as time expired. Gordon Hayward scored 13 of his 19 points in the second half, and he added 10 rebounds and three assists to help the Jazz steal the victory. George Hill chipped in 16 points.
Blake Griffin led the Clippers with 26 points, but it was Chris Paul who pulled off magical play after magical play down the stretch. LA's superstar point guard scored 12 of his 25 points and grabbed two steals in the fourth quarter, and his banked-in runner with 13.1 seconds left tied the game. Paul's heroics, though, were quickly overshadowed by Utah's most experienced player.
"I'm very comfortable in those situations," Johnson said. "That was one of the reasons they came after me this summer, and I'm glad to be a part of this great young team."
Johnson kept Utah in it early—coming off the bench to score 14 of his 21 points in the first half—and then won it at the buzzer. Johnson has now made an NBA-best eight game-winning buzzer-beaters in the last 10 seasons. No other player has more than four.
The Jazz went down six midway through the second quarter but responded with a 14-2 run. Johnson grabbed the ball out of Paul's hands and threw it ahead to Hayward, who stopped on a dime and put in a layup. Rodney Hood followed that up with a 3-pointer (after an offensive rebound by Favors). Johnson swished a running hook shot, and Favors took a slick pass from Joe Ingles and slammed down two points to give Utah its first lead of the game. Johnson buried a long three on Utah's next possession, and Favors had another dunk soon after to push Utah's lead to six with 3:50 left in the first half.
Hayward's turnaround jumper with 1.7 seconds left in the third quarter broke a 72-72 tie, and then Hood opened the fourth with a three from the wing. A layup by Favors pushed Utah's lead to seven. After a tip-in by DeAndre Jordan, Hill made one of the plays of the game an off-balance, banked-in three that just beat the shot clock and gave Utah its largest lead of the game.
The teams alternated big plays down the stretch. Paul grabbed a nifty steal and then pulled-up and drilled a jumper in transition. Johnson canned a 3-pointer. Paul converted a three-point play. Favors threw down a put-back dunk. Paul made another twisting layup and then sank a three to pull LA within one with 3:10 left. Utah, though, responded with two buckets that set up the dramatic finish—Hayward hit a fadeaway jumper, and Johnson made a runner in the lane to give Utah a five-point lead with 1:09 left. And then Johnson, of course, won it as the final buzzer sounded.
Utah's bench came up huge, outscoring LA's reserves 47-20. Johnson (21 points) and Favors (15 points) led the way, while Hood (eight points) and Jeff Withey (three points) also contributed. Jamal Crawford, one of the NBA's most dangerous sixth men, scored only eight points on 4-for-12 shooting for the Clippers.
That's the exact amount of time Favors was on the floor. Filling in for Gobert, he finished with 15 points, six rebounds, two assists, one block and one critical free throw with 18.7 seconds left in the game. Favors missed 15 of Utah's final 18 regular season games because of a knee injury and hadn't played more than 30 minutes since March 6. Tonight, though, he gutted through the pain and exhaustion to play a major role in Utah's win.
Coach's Quote of the Night
"We wanted the ball in Joe or Gordon's hands [at the end]. ... There's nothing we did that was creative or smart. We had a player who made a play, and that's usually what it comes down to."
Jazz head coach Quin Snyder
The win was Utah's first playoff victory since April 30, 2010. ... Boris Diaw led the Jazz with six assists. ... Austin Rivers (hamstring) was out for the Clippers. ... Jordan double-doubled with 10 points and 15 rebounds in the loss. ... The Jazz have now won four straight playoff games over the Clippers. The previous three came in a series sweep in 1997—the year the Jazz reached the NBA Finals for the first time. ... Griffin scored 20 of his 26 points in the first half. He also committed a game-high six turnovers.
The Jazz will stay in Los Angeles to take on the Clippers in Game 2 on Tuesday. Tipoff is set for 8:30 p.m. MT, and the game will be televised nationally on TNT.