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Kragthorpe: Jazz's loss to Clippers is an inside job

Published April 19, 2017 3:21 pm

Without Gobert, Jazz no match for Clippers in the paint.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Los Angeles

Jazz center Rudy Gobert returned to the Staples Center, striding purposefully and looking like his usual, overwhelming self Tuesday night.

Unfortunately for the Jazz, Gobert's intimidating presence took effect only in the press room food line about an hour before his teammates took the court in a 99-91 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

Even after facing a Gobert-less Jazz team on every offensive possession of Saturday's Game 1 defeat, the Clippers finally realized the 7-foot-1 Frenchman was out injured in Game 2. They exploited fill-in center Derrick Favors and the rest of the Jazz defense with five dunks in the first quarter and kept pounding the ball inside in the interest of tying the series.

"They made adjustments," Favors said. "That's playoff basketball."

"It Takes Everything" is the Clippers' playoff theme. The Jazz have needed everybody all season, amid their injuries. Joe Johnson's buzzer-beating basket in Game 1 is looking even more meaningful now, but that victory also masked how the Jazz face a major struggle in this series until Gobert returns to action.

"We're not as good without Rudy, there's no way around that," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said before the game. "But that doesn't mean we can't compete. … We can't be discouraged by the fact we don't have him."

After the game, Snyder said, "There's no sense lamenting his absence, we've just got to figure out how to be better. … We've got to find other ways to protect the paint."

The Jazz battled, as always, but their inside personnel issues were too much to overcome. The Clippers produced 54 points in the paint in taking a 79-70 lead through three quarters. DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin feasted on Jazz defenders, throwing down some frightening dunks in a first-quarter sequence when George Hill and Johnson were caught in switches.

Even against the best efforts of Jazz big men Favors and Jeff Withey, the Clippers thrived. They scored only 40 of their 95 points in the paint in Game 1, but they figured something out Tuesday. Jordan finished with 18 points, complementing Griffin's 24.

"That what we should do," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said afterward.

I once interviewed rocket scientists, who like to say an issue is "not brain surgery." And then I talked to brain surgeons, who describe a dilemma as "not rocket science." In any case, the Clippers came to the brilliant, if obvious, solution that they should go inside if Gobert is not there.

For as long as Gobert is out, this is Favors' opportunity to make an impact after a frustrating season, derailed by his own injuries.

Everyone associated with the Jazz was stunned when Gobert fell to the court after bumping his knee during the opening possession of Game 1. Imagine being Favors, suddenly elevated to a major role in this series. Favors had missed 14 games since early March with a knee injury. He appeared in three of the last four regular-season games, but never for more than 21 minutes.

He played 33 minutes in Game 2, posting 13 points and seven rebounds. That followed his 15-point, six-rebound effort in 32 minutes of Game 1, when he wore down at the end. Favors will have another two days' rest prior to Friday's Game 3, and then come shorter breaks between Sunday's Game 4 and Tuesday's Game 5. And who knows, Gobert may become available at some point in the series.

Favors at least was prepared for his expanded role Tuesday. The early call Saturday was "a little bit of a surprise for me," he said. "I wasn't as ready as I wanted to be, but I had to be ready quick. I had to get my mind right, my body right, and just be ready to go."

After another wobbly start and falling behind by 13 points in the first quarter, the Jazz were down by only three points midway through the third quarter. They were within six in fourth period, but couldn't sustain enough offense to deliver another victory.

"I don't think we were awful on defense," said Snyder, who was not upset with the Jazz's offense either. They missed too many shots: Gordon Hayward was 5 of 15 (including 2 of 9 from inside the 3-point line) and Johnson was 6 of 15. In key moments when the Jazz had chances to seize some momentum, they couldn't convert.

One pregame theory was the Jazz would lack motivation, having already done enough in Los Angeles to reverse the home-court advantage in the series.

"I don't think I'm worried about satisfaction," Snyder said. "There's usually something else in play there too."

In Tuesday's case, the key elements were the Clippers' size, talent and aggressiveness. Those features will remain prominent Friday, when the series moves to Vivint Smart Home Arena. Game 2 drove home the point that beating Clippers will be tough to do without Gobert, no matter where the Jazz are playing.


Twitter: @tribkurt






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