The highly anticipated Western Conference playoff series between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz starts Saturday in Los Angeles. The Jazz will be making their 26th playoff appearance in franchise history, having advanced to the Conference Semifinals 14 times, Western Conference Finals six times, and NBA Finals twice. For the Clippers, this post-season marks their sixth consecutive playoff appearance and 13th in franchise history. The Clippers have never made it past the Western Conference semifinals.
Notably, the Jazz and Clippers have met in a playoff series twice previously, also in first round matchups. The Jazz emerged the victor on both these prior occasions, eliminating the Clippers 3-2 in 1992 and 3-0 in 1997. Is a similar fate awaiting the Clippers this post-season? Or will the third time be a charm? Let’s take a closer look at the #4 vs. #5 match-up in the West.
Los Angeles Clippers vs Utah Jazz First Round Series Preview
The Clippers won the regular season series against the Jazz 3-1, holding the Jazz to under 80 points in two of the three wins, and under 100 points in the third. The Jazz are going to have to rely heavily on their defense to compensate for their lack of scoring to stay competitive in this series.
The Jazz average the third-fewest points per game at 100.7 while also ranking last in the NBA in possessions per game (94.7). Their success is the result of their efforts on the defensive end. The Jazz gave up the fewest points per game (96.8) and are third in defensive efficiency (105.3).
The Clippers rank sixth in the NBA in points per game with 108.7 and are fifth in offensive efficiency (112.7). They scored well under average in two of their wins against the Jazz however, putting up only 88 points in each of the two contests. The ability of the Clippers to develop offensive rhythm and set the pace in this series will be key.
The Clippers Curse
The Clippers have not had good luck in postseason play.
2016: 53 wins, lost in the 1st round
In the Clippers’ 2016 first-round playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers, their championship dreams were dashed by injuries. Both Chris Paul (broken right hand) and Blake Griffin (left quadriceps tendon) were injured in Game 4 of the series and never returned.
2015: 56 wins, lost in the 2nd round
In 2015, the Clippers blew a 3-1 lead and lost a deciding Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals to the Houston Rockets, 113-100. In Game 6 of that series, the Clippers let a 19-point lead over the Rockets in the third quarter slip away; one of the greatest collapses in Los Angeles sports history.
2014: 57 wins, lost in the 2nd round
The Clippers’ exit from the second round of the 2014 playoffs was possibly the most heartbreaking. The Clippers held a seven-point lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder with 49.2 seconds remaining in Game 5 of a series tied at two games apiece. In those final seconds, the usually unflappable Paul turned the ball over twice and committed a foul beyond the three-point line allowing the Thunder to come back and win the game and eventually the series.
There is no doubt that the Clippers are one of the more talented teams in the league. They are one of only four teams with a winning record against .500+ opponents heading into the playoffs, alongside the very talented Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and Cleveland Cavaliers. However, the window for the Clippers veteran core is fast dwindling. Three starters – Griffin, Paul and J.J. Redick – will be free agents this summer and the calls to blow up the Clippers core and restructure have been getting louder. A lack of postseason success for the Clippers this year may very well mean the death of the Franchise as we know it.
DeAndre Jordan v. Rudy Gobert
In his fourth year with the Jazz, Gobert has established himself as a solid young center. The 24-year-old leads the NBA in total blocks (214) and blocks per game (2.6). In addition to his impact on defense, Gobert is averaging a career-best 14.0 points a night and is leading the league in true shooting percentage of .683.
The more seasoned Jordan is first in the NBA in rebounding (13.8) and field goal percentage (.714), while averaging 12.5 points and 1.7 blocks per game. Of course, these stats tell only part of the story; most of what Jordan does is not reflected in his numbers. His mere presence on the floor drastically changes the way the Clippers’ opponents play their game, both on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.
The matchup between Jordan and Gobert will really come down to a battle on the boards.
Jordan takes an extremely high percentage of his shots from within three-feet, with most of those touches coming from lobs and offensive rebounds. If Gobert can keep Jordan off the offensive glass and force him to shoot from outside of the three-foot radius, Jordan becomes far less of an offensive threat.
For Jordan to succeed, the Clippers need to spread the floor, pulling Gobert away from basket. Redick, Marreese Speights and Jamal Crawford are key here. It may be tough to get these role players open however, as the Jazz’s stingy defense gives up less than 36 percent of its conceded points from deep.
Gordon Hayward vs. Luc Mbah a Moute
Hayward has been the Jazz’s go-to guy all season long and is averaging 21.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game heading into the playoffs. Mbah a Moute is an underrated and elite level defender who as of late has noticeably increased his aggressiveness and contributions on the offensive end, scoring 14, 15 and 10 points respectively in his last 3 games, well over his season average of 6.
Hayward only played in three of the four meetings between the Clippers and Jazz in the regular season. On two of those occasions he did not play well, scoring well under average; hardships that could be attributed to Mbah a Moute’s defense. However, Hayward was excellent in the Jazz’s lone win against the Clippers, scoring 27 points at home. Obviously a lot of factors play into this match up, but a healthy Hayward is expected to have an edge over Mbah a Moute in a 7-game series.
The Clippers are a veteran playoff team with home court advantage and something to prove. The Jazz haven’t won a playoff series or game since 2010 but have been steadily and impressively rebuilding over the last five years. Ultimately, the Clippers are a better and more experienced team, and are on an impressive uptick. The series will be physical and fun to watch, and will end in six with the Clippers moving on to the second round.
All uncited statistics are from www.basketball-reference.com and are accurate as of April 14th, 2017.
LOS ANGELES, UNITED STATES – APRIL 03: Chris Paul (3) and DeAndre Jordan (6) of LA Clippers are in action during an NBA game between Los Angeles Clippers vs Washington Wizards at Staples Center, Los Angeles , CA, USA on April 03, 2016. (Photo by Mintaha Neslihan Eroglu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)