The Los Angeles Clippers took seven games to get out of the first round and the battle won’t get any easier as they take on top-seeded Utah Jazz in the conference semi-finals with no rest. By the time this series starts, the Jazz will have had a full week’s rest following their five-game series win over the Memphis Grizzlies. The Clippers, on the other hand, will have had just two, with games then to follow every second day as they attempt to catch up to the pack who have already kicked off their conference semi-final series.
The Jazz has been the NBA’s best team for most of the season and, apart from a minor slip up in Game 1 against the physical Grizzlies without Donovan Mitchell, they were faultless in their first-round series. In their four victories, they scored at least 120 points and had an average winning margin of 11.25 per game. Utah has had their offence humming all season, finishing fourth in the league during the regular season for points per game, and it’s that offence that will need to give them an edge in this series.
While the Clippers have plenty of talent at that end of the court, they, like the Jazz, finished in the top five for points conceded per game throughout the regular season. Both teams are well-drilled and well-coached on defence, but the ball movement and extra possessions Utah can take through being the best rebounders should give them an edge. With Rudy Gobert dominating the paint, pulling down 13.5 rebounds per game (over a quarter of the 48.3 team average), it allows the Jazz to have extra time on the ball. When their three-point shooting works, it’s all they need to get the job done.
Game 1 against the Grizzlies saw that three-point shooting fall away, and the result went against them, so it goes without saying how critical the impact of their main sharp-shooters Donovan Mitchell, Bojan Bogdanovic, Mike Conley and Joe Ingles will be. The trio all shot the ball at more than 40% from deep this season, and it will require a monumental defensive effort from the Clippers to cut their impact. The Jazz does tend to be a little selfish with the ball at times though, sitting 23rd for assists. Given the Clippers have five individual players who all record more than a steal per game, it could bite Utah.
For the Clippers to win, their attack needs rapid improvement. While they won the last two games against Dallas to bounce back from 3-2 down and make it this far, their attack only mustered north of 120 points on two occasions against a team not noted for their defence. That is a major worry now as they line up to play the Jazz, but the individual brilliance and playoff experience of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George doesn’t leave the Clippers without a chance.
They both averaged north of 20 points per game this season, and did similar against the Mavericks, with Leonard going to another level in putting up 32.8 points per game. To have a chance, they will need similar output on a consistent basis from their two stars.
Verdict: The Jazz has been consistently leaps and bounds ahead of their competition this year. The Clippers can fight, scrap and pick up wins with their defence, but moving to the conference finals will be a bridge too far.
Jazz in 6 games. $1.59 at PlayUp