You can’t help but feel a bit sorry for Chris Paul after games like the LA Clippers’ series opener against the Utah Jazz on Saturday, which resulted in a 97-95 loss despite the absence of Rudy Gobert after the first 11 seconds and a signature last-second Joe Johnson buzzer-beater.
Paul tallied 10 assists in the first half alone and rose to the occasion more than any Clipper in the fourth quarter. Paul scored 10 straight points late in the fourth and hit a game-tying floater before Johnson’s game-winner. But his 25 points (10-of-19 shooting), 11 assists, seven rebounds, three steals and only one turnover weren’t enough to earn a victory.
And thanks to CP3, we have a neat summary of the game:
Q: "Any positives you can take away?"
Chris Paul: "Nope" pic.twitter.com/xsqpue2cio
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) April 16, 2017
To add a little more depth than “nope,” there are some things the Clippers need to change heading into Game 2, which will not include Gobert because of his hyperextended knee.
Push the pace
The Clippers should have the capability to tear up and down the court unlike most teams in the NBA, and it stems from having a frontcourt with more explosiveness than everyone else. Even a post-injury Blake Griffin has terrific speed and a fair share of athleticism, while DeAndre Jordan soars through the air unlike any other center right now. Those two weapons, not to mention having Paul or Griffin’s ballhandling to orchestrate fast breaks, could be deadly.
And it is…sometimes.
Yet, as the team opts to keep things slower and Paul embraces a more clinical speed, the Clippers only ranked 17th in pace and 20th in transition points this season.
The Jazz picked their chances to attack with more pace against the Clippers, as they benefited from LA’s 15 turnovers in Game 1. Despite the Clippers scoring 19 fast-break points of their own, they need to push the pace far more frequently than they did, especially if they’re going against lineups where big men like Boris Diaw and the essentially one-legged Derrick Favors are trailing Griffin and Jordan in transition.
The Clippers aren’t fast, but the Jazz are on another level; they were a dead-last 30th in pace this season. The Clippers have to act quicker in Game 2 with the kind of personnel to counter this plodding nature and avoid getting sucked into the Jazz’s methodic pace.
Chris Paul needs to be the hero more often
It’s hard to fault Paul after he displayed how good he is at both ends of the floor to close the game, but he definitely could have been more aggressive in terms of finding his own shot during the first half. He finished the first two quarters with just five points and rarely looked to create something for himself, instead setting up his teammates for a flurry of looks:
As we saw during the second half, though, CP3 can take the Clippers’ offense to a new level when he looks to score. He needs to tear away with the ball in transition sometimes and attack himself. He needs to get greedy if his teammates aren’t hitting their shots. From start to finish in Game 2, the Clippers need more of that mindset.
Not what the Doc should order
Sorry for the pun, but some of Doc Rivers’ rotations were worthy of it against the Jazz, especially in the fourth quarter.
Jamal Crawford playing 29 minutes to J.J. Redick’s 27? Even with Redick gaining a few fouls relatively quickly and not having his best game, he shouldn’t be favored by Crawford in a game when the Clippers needed their top players and extra spacing against the Jazz’s smaller lineups.
A bigger problem is Redick sitting for almost seven straight minutes of the fourth quarter until 1:09 remained. Raymond Felton and Crawford should not be taking away those minutes and help limit Redick to just six shots, and that’s blindingly apparently when Crawford recorded a mere eight points on 4-of-12 shooting for the night while failing to record a single point or assist in the whole fourth quarter.
Adapt to Jazz small ball
Beyond Crawford, Doc also needs to be careful how he uses the combination of Blake Griffin and Marreese Speights. Together, they can have the kind of spacing and scoring to create some issues for opponents. Alternatively, and too often a lot of the time, the lack of rim protection they provide, especially with how easily Speights can be attacked on defense, creates a lot of problems for LA.
For instance, this possession perfectly shows how the Jazz’s small lineup with Favors at center and Hayward and Johnson as the forwards stretched the Clippers’ defense and rattled them with greater speed, movement and spacing in transition:
Speights’ lack of mobility also hurts the Clippers, particularly when the Jazz go small. Here, George Hill got lucky with an awesome mid-air catch-and-shoot 3 at the buzzer, but you can see Speights struggling to close out on Boris Diaw (who assisted Hill) after running inside, which then forced Felton to help out of position and leave Hill wide open:
Johnson showed once again how much he can still do, as he led the Jazz with 21 points and buried the game-winning shot. Add on how effective he was most of the time pestering Griffin in the post and generally spreading out the floor for the offense, and it’s clear to see why the Jazz were so effective in lineups with Johnson at power forward this season. For instance, the lineup of Gobert at center with Shelvin Mack, Joe Ingles, Hayward and Johnson recorded a +28.3 net rating in 71 minutes together (Utah’s third-best lineup).
While Luc Mbah a Moute has his offensive issues, he can still be used as a small-ball 4 to help the Clippers maintain better defensive lineups than throwing out Griffin and Speights with an all-offense approach, or too many lineups with three small guards. The Clippers have had some success with their multi-guard lineups this year, but it’s harder to be successful against the Jazz’s bevy of lengthy, athletic wings, especially without Austin Rivers.
Doc didn’t adjust his rotations accordingly to the flow of the game or the flow of his player’s production. That can’t keep happening.
Follow Chris Paul’s example
This one is simple. While no one else on the Clippers has Paul’s two-way ability or competitiveness (the latter is clear yet again), they at least need to rise to the occasion and capitalize against a Jazz team without Gobert like their lives depend on it. If not then, when? What does it take for them to show a little more energy and drive?
Paul seemed to be the only one pouring everything into the game, and the only one mad enough when they lost at the last second. You can critique Paul for his nattering and complacency at times, but it all comes from a constant state of immense competitiveness. The rest of his team could use that for every game they have left this postseason.
Some of these changes may not happen. Teams and coaches need to adjust to their opponent over the course of a playoff series, especially when that opponent adjusts so well when losing their anchor after 11 seconds. The problem is Doc is who he is most of the time. He favors certain players, and there’s no way Crawford should be playing more than Redick for the entire game or in a big fourth quarter.
Clippers fans have to hope Rivers and Co. make the necessary adjustments after Clipper-ing their way to the ugly Game 1 loss without Gobert. LA is the better team on paper and has had a lot of success against Utah in recent years, and the circumstances are favorable with Gobert hurting. Let’s see if the Clippers can take advantage and avoid the pressure of going to Utah with two losses under their belt.