3:30 PM EST, ABC – Line: Clippers -3.5, Over/Under: 192.5
There are few words in sports that are sweeter than Game Seven, which is precisely what we’re going to get today as the Los Angeles Clippers host the Utah Jazz in a decisive contest from STAPLES Center, with the winner advancing to face the Golden State Warriors. After stringing together back-to-back victories thus taking a commanding 3-2 lead, the Jazz (51-31, 5th in Western Conference) were ultimately betrayed by their youth and inexperience, as they wasted a golden opportunity to eliminate their opponent in front of their raucous faithful in Salt Lake City. From the beginning of Friday Night’s 98-93 defeat at Vivint Smart Home Arena, it became very clear that Utah would not be to simply coast through the night, as they proved unable to put their collective foot on the neck of the Clippers, who for all intents and purposes owned the home side throughout the Second Half; jumping out to an early 22-13 lead, they allowed Los Angeles to score eleven unanswered points to get back into the game. Later, the hosts would jump out to an eight-point lead to being the Third Quarter, only to slowly collapse as the half continued. So what happened to Quin Snyder’s charges, you ask? How did they squander such a chance? To put it simply, their offense went stagnant when they needed it most. On the night, they shot a miserable 41.0% from the field, including a very disappointing 7-of-26 from beyond the arc (26.9%), with Swingmen such as Gordon Hayward (21.9 PTS, 47.1% FG, 39.8% 3FG, 5.4 REB, 3.5 AST, 1.0 STL) and Joe Johnson (9.2 PTS, 43.6% FG, 41.1% 3FG, 3.1 REB, 1.8 AST), whom they’ve both relied upon heavily for production in the Half Court, shot a combined 12-of-29 (41.4%), including 4-of-13 from downtown (30.8%). And with all that said, the latter had a shot to cap off a rabid 16-5 run to cut the lead to three points, yet settled for a contested twenty-five footer that clanked off the rim with just three seconds left to play. Far too many times they settled for the potential knockout punch and hoisted an ill-advised trey, and too many times they came up short. Rodney Hood (12.7 PTS, 40.8% FG, 37.3% 3FG, 3.4 REB, 1.6 AST, 0.7 STL) bricked all six of is attempts from long-range, while Joe Ingles (7.1 PTS, 45.2% FG, 44.1% 3FG, 3.2 REB, 2.7 AST, 1.2 STL) missed half as many shots. As has been the case at times throughout this series, Utah appeared to lack a great deal of imagination in their Half Court Sets, which is not want you want to see when you’re locked in a battle where they pace has been slowed to a crawl (89.1 possessions per 48 minutes) and there is an onus placed on maximizing possessions. Their sudden poor shooting is a rather surprising development considering that they’re one of the most efficient offensive teams in the Playoffs. In fact, Utah are the only team in this Postseason that rank in the Top-Three in both Field Goal Percentage (47.2%) and Three-Point Percentage (38.3%). However, heading into Game Seven all the talk will be revolving around the health of Rudy Gobert (14.0 PTS, 66.3% FG, 12.8 REB, 1.2 AST, 0.6 STL, 2.6 BLK), their towering seven-footer, who very well may hold the immediate future of this team in his sizeable hands. The Frenchman suffered a hyperextended knee early on in Game One, causing him to miss the rest of that affair along with the following two installments of the Series, and about midway through the final frame Friday Night he sustained a mild ankle sprain, which left him visibly laboring for the rest of the outing. X-Rays were reportedly negative, but it remains to be seen just how effective he will be for tonight’s game. If he’s compromised in any manner, it will be a huge blow for the Jazz, who will likely find themselves at a severe disadvantage in the Paint, where the team that has prevailed in that particular battle has claimed victory in five out of the six games in this Series.
Meanwhile, reports of the Clippers’ (51-31, 4th in Western Conference) demise appear to have been a tad bit premature, as they have now rallied back from a 3-2 hole to host a decisive Game Seven on their home floor. Coming into this Series, there has been a prevailing pessimism about this team, who has some serious decisions to make this Summer, as a number of prominent figures on their Roster will become Free Agents, including a slew of All-Stars such as Chris Paul (18.1 PTS, 47.6% FG, 41.1% 3FG, 5.0 REB, 9.2 AST, 1.9 STL) and Blake Griffin (21.6 PTS, 49.3% FG, 33.6% 3FG, 8.1 REB, 4.9 AST, 1.0 STL). While these guys have been one of the most thrilling and entertaining views in the league during their six seasons together, it hasn’t necessarily translated into Postseason Success, for Los Angeles has failed to advance past the Second Round of the Playoffs in any of their six consecutive appearances. Two years ago they shockingly blew a 3-2 lead against the Rockets in the Western Conference Semifinals en route to elimination, followed by falling to the Sixth-Seeded Trail Blazers after blowing a 2-1 lead in the First Round a year ago. In the latter of the two defeats, the aforementioned Paul broke his hand in Game Three, effectively dooming his team’s chances of success. A year later, lightening has apparently struck twice, for now it is Griffin that has suffered a season-ending injury, tearing the Plantar Plate in his Right Big Toe in Game Three. Two losses later, is it any wonder that the swarm of vultures circling this unit throughout the campaign have loomed even larger? This is the time when teams that are mentally strong dig in and get to work, which while this particular virtue has rarely been a strength for these guys in the past, doesn’t preclude them from doing so in the present. Needless to say, Doc Rivers’ charges exhibited the necessary resolve to stave off elimination with a stellar performance in Game Six, providing some hope much-needed hope for their fan base, who have lamented the proverbial writing on the wall for months now. Resilience was the word of the night, as Los Angeles answered every run that the Jazz went on, from fighting back on a number of occasions in the First Half, and overcoming a near calamitous series of events in the early stages of the Third Quarter to eventually take a commanding 91-77 lead with just over three minutes to play in the Fourth. Though they came within a Joe Johnson three-pointer in the waning seconds of seeing their fourteen-point lead completely erased, the Clippers lived to fight another day, with the lion’s share of the responsibility falling on the shoulders of Paul, who as he has throughout this Series continued to absolutely torment Utah. The eight-time All-NBA Point Guard has averaged 27.3 points on 52.6% shooting in the six games, including 41.9% from downtown, along with 5.2 rebounds, 10.0 assists, and 2.0 steals. In Game Six, he torched the hosts for twenty-nine points on 10-of-20 shooting (50.0%), while totaling three rebounds, eight assists, and a pair of steals. Unlike their counterpart, the visiting side had no problems putting the ball in the basket, shooting a solid 49.3% from the field, including 9-of-21 from downtown (42.9%), DeAndre Jordan (12.7 PTS, 71.4% FG, 13.8 REB, 1.2 AST, 0.6 STL, 1.7 BLK), Austin Rivers (12.0 PTS, 44.2% FG, 37.1% 3FG, 2.2 REB, 2.8 AST), and even Luc Mbah a Moute (6.1 PTS, 51.5% FG, 2.2 REB, 1.0 STL) all contributing with thirteen points apiece. With that said, in order to complete the comeback, they’re going to need to cut down the mistakes and the fouls; Los Angeles committed nearly as many turnovers (sixteen) as they had assists (seventeen), while sending the Jazz to the Charity Stripe for thirty-three free-throws, which all contributed greatly in their near late collapse.