For the first time in franchise history, the Clippers are headed to the Western Conference Finals, and they did so last night in the most astonishing way possible. Let’s get into it.
First off, we need to discuss the matter of which single-handily killed the Jazz, and that variable might surprise you. Rudy Gobert. With the small-lineups insinuated by Ty Lue and the Clippers, Gobert was stuck in between a position of defending the rim and closing out on shooters such as Terance Mann and Nic Batum, both of which Quin Snyder assigned Gobert to. This allowed Batum to go 4/6 from three and Mann to go 7/10 from three. Now, Gobert is so incredibly slow on closing out on shooters that Mann would have multiple seconds to prepare himself for the shot. He would dribble once, re-position the ball, or just take a deep breath, while Gobert isn’t even attempting to close out.
Secondly, I’d like to bring up Reggie Jackson’s name. I originally pitched Rajon Rondo as the X-factor for this team, who has only played in 173 total minutes throughout this season’s playoffs, but Reggie Jackson has been the true X-factor. He’s played a total of 395 minutes over this season’s playoffs and has averaged 18 PPG and 4 APG. I wanted to point out the assists because Jackson has been labeled as a scoring point guard his entire career. Scoring has been his job throughout the series so far, but yesterday, he broke through with 10 assists and a couple of nasty passes. He had no fear whatsoever of attacking Rudy Gobert, as he had two marvelous layups up and around Gobert late in the game. Jackson’s bravery earned Gobert’s respect, as he bit in to help a little bit more. Jackson then found the open man on the perimeter for an open three. Of course, he did his fair share of scoring, coming away from the contest with 27 points. The Clippers shot 12-15 from the field with Gobert as the primary defender.
Turnovers were also a major contribution to the Jazz loss and are what began the major comeback. The Jazz finished the game with 16 turnovers to the Clippers’ 6. The Clippers forced 13 steals and 5 blocks measured up against Utah’s 4 steals and 0 blocks.
Lastly, I’d like to bring up the fact that Mike Conley was not healthy. It was clearly a desperation move by the Jazz as he would not have played if this were a non-elimination game. Furthermore, Joe Ingles was a non-factor with 5 points and 2 assists. Quin Snyder was certainly counting on Ingles to have a larger impact on offense both in scoring and facilitating.
With the Clippers advancing, it will be interesting how they treat Deandre Ayton. Ayton, the 6’11 center for the Phoenix Suns, has only blocked 5 shots in his 8 playoff games so far. Although he is faster and more agile than Gobert, his defense in the paint is far less stellar. It will be interesting to see how Paul George and Reggie Jackson utilize the young center’s inability to defend the rim at a high level with drives and kick-outs.