Saturday's Game 1 loss to the Jazz woke the Clippers up and put them in a must-win scenario. The Jazz braced themselves for what was coming and still couldn't stop it. Game 2 never turned into a rout, but the Clippers were able to beat the Jazz in a predictable manner.
And that, more than anything, is what bred disappointment.
"It was a little frustrating for us," Jazz forward Gordon Hayward said. It "felt like we didn't we feel like we didn't play our best basketball, and we hung around and we hung around. Besides the first quarter, I felt like we did all right."
Despite that initial frustration, the Jazz were loose and upbeat following the loss. Without star center Rudy Gobert for all but 11 seconds in this Western Conference first-round series, the Jazz forged a 1-1 split, wresting home-court advantage from the Clippers in the process.
The Jazz remain a confident team heading to Vivint Smart Home Arena for Friday's Game 3. There are reasons for this. In Game 1, the Jazz made timely shots, put pressure on the Clippers and stole the win with a Joe Johnson buzzer-beater. In Game 2, Los Angeles hit the Jazz with a mighty punch. The Clippers led by as much as 13 points. They never trailed and dominated the paint. Still, the Jazz never went away, and were in a position to steal another game in the fourth quarter.
"Going forward, we have to execute better on both ends," Utah power forward Boris Diaw said. "We lost the game in the first 10 minutes. We matched their intensity. We played just as hard as they did. They hit some buckets and got the crowd involved. But for the most part, I think we played hard."
The Jazz are happy to come home, where they have won 10 consecutive games. At the same time, the Jazz know that advantage will go for naught if some Game 2 trends persist.
The Clippers outscored the Jazz 60-38 in the paint on Tuesday, bullying Utah's big men. Los Angeles held a 39-33 rebounding advantage, with Jordan and Blake Griffin playing virtual volleyball between themselves, while staging an in-game dunk contest.
Of course, Jazz did not have Gobert around to protect the rim. But the Jazz also don't know when Gobert will return from his hyperextended knee. He remains questionable at best for Game 3.
"We just made a point to try and get easy baskets," the Clippers' Jordan said. "We were able to get a lot of stops early in the game, and we were able to get out and run in transition and get some easy dunks."
By Friday, the Jazz will have to figure out how to get easier looks for Hayward, who encountered significant defensive attention in Game 2. Hayward is shooting 12-of-33 from the field in the series. Luc Mbah a Moute has hounded Hayward and made his life difficult. But Hayward has to find a way to be more efficient and he knows that.
"We've got to be better in executing our game plan," Hayward said. "They're good at what they do. They're a good team. But we for sure have to be better, and I think we will be."
Big picture, the Jazz are encouraged by their showing in Los Angeles. Getting that first win Saturday took pressure off Tuesday's performance, and the Jazz feel like they had chances to win Game 2, even with the Clippers dominating the interior.
The Jazz know the series will only become more intense in Friday's Game 3. And the adjustments they make in the next two days will be critical to their chances for a win.
• The Jazz have effectively taken Clippers shooting guard JJ Redick out of the series. He is 5 of 13 from the field in the first two games, and has scored 11 total points.
• Without Rudy Gobert, the Jazz have been outrebounded in both games. Gobert's status for Game 3 is uncertain.
• The Jazz trailed the Clippers wire-to-wire in Tuesday's Game 2 loss.