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The Los Angeles Clippers allowed Joe Johnson to rip home-court advantage away from them in Game 1. They followed up with a statement win Tuesday to ensure they'll head to Utah knotted up at 1-1.
DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul each had double-doubles and the Clippers locked down defensively on their way to a 99-91 win over the Jazz in Game 2. The best-of-seven series will resume Friday in Utah.
Facing the prospect of yet another postseason disappointment, Clippers coach Doc Rivers made a number of critical adjustments in Game 2. He integrated his bench into the game much earlier, including giving Blake Griffin an extended rest in the first quarter. Griffin had seemed gassed toward the end of Game 1 after playing 43 minutes.
Paul Pierce, left hanging at the end of the bench for nearly the entire season, played nine minutes.
Many chalked up Pierce's surprisingly effective play to the absence of Rudy Gobert, who sat out due to a knee injury he suffered early in Game 1:
Whatever the reason, Rivers' adjustments paid off. The Clippers looked far fresher and more cohesive as a unit in this fourth quarter, time and again staving off Utah comeback attempts. The Jazz got within six points but could never close the gap to one possession.
Paul spent most of the fourth quarter as the offensive maestro, scoring seven of his 21 points and nailing a number of tough jumpers in the waning minutes. He's been nothing short of sensational in these two games, compiling a total of 46 points and 21 assists:
Jordan, the beneficiary of a series of Paul passes underneath, scored 18 points and grabbed 15 rebounds. The Clippers outscored Utah by 22 in the paint (60-38), another consequence of Gobert being sidelined. The Clippers finished the game having shot 52.4 percent overall.
Gobert, a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, has been the Jazz's point-preventing fulcrum all season. While they managed to hold things together for a valiant Game 1 effort, they sorely missed his towering presence near the basket Tuesday.
Without Gobert to man the middle, Utah's offensive inconsistency became all the more glaring. Gordon Hayward struggled his way to a 20-point performance on 5-of-15 shooting, while no other starter scored more than Derrick Favors' 13 points. Johnson had another solid 13-point effort off the bench, but the Jazz could never find a consistent spark offensively.
Jazz fans also noted Gobert's absence on that end:
After years of having injuries and bad timing undo their postseason hopes, the Clippers finally got an unfortunate break their way with Gobert's injury. His status for the remainder of the series is unclear, but the nature of his knee hyperextension and bone bruise makes it highly unlikely he'll be back for Game 3. The best-case scenario would likely be a return late in the series.
With Rivers having found a successful blueprint in Game 2, the Clippers should be able to steal at least one game in Utah and get back in the driver's seat of this series.