Utah went on the road to eliminate Los Angeles and advance to the Western Conference semifinals against the defending conference-champion Golden State Warriors.
USA TODAY Sports
LOS ANGELES – As valiant efforts go, the Clippers faithful were impressive until the end.
With every Utah Jazz run, all those head-scratching mistakes from their favorite team in Sunday’s 104-91 loss in Game 7 at the Staples Center that could mean the end for this confounding Clippers core, they did their part. The same couldn’t be said for the Clippers themselves.
“You’re going to lose like this?” one man yelled from behind the basket in the third quarter, not far from where the Clippers mascot – “Chuck the Condor,” they call him – stood on top of a courtside railing and tried so hard to keep hope alive.
“It’s time to break up this (expletive) team,” another yelled as the final buzzer sounded.
“It’s Game 7 guys – wake up!” screamed another.
Instead, with the Jazz earning the right to face the vaunted Golden State Warriors in a second-round series that starts on Tuesday at Oracle Arena, yet another Clippers season was put to rest prematurely and all the questions about their offseason came rushing to the fore. With Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and J.J. Redick set to be free agents this summer, this was likely the last time the Clippers core would look like this.
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While nothing is ever certain in free agency, the 31-year-old Paul is widely-expected to opt out of the final year of his contract and return on a five-year, maximum-salary deal, in large part, because he loves this city and he appears determined to forge on with this franchise. But even the recent proclamation from president of basketball operations and coach Doc Rivers to USA TODAY Sports that he’d like to keep this group together even if it means having a payroll that nears $200 million, Griffin’s future is much murkier. Not only will the 28-year-old inspire plenty of interest when July 1 rolls around, but Clippers owner Steve Ballmer is believed to be unsure about whether Griffin should remain on a max deal of his own.
As for Redick, his postseason struggles didn’t do much to offer clarity regarding his situation. The 32-year-old who averaged 15 points per game in the regular season averaged just 9.1 in the series, shooting 38% from the field overall and 34.6% from three-point range. It had everything to do with the stifling defensive efforts of Utah’s Joe Ingles and Rodney Hood, but it was surprising nonetheless.
After a series that had been so intriguing, with both teams having fought through significant injuries to key players and so much at stake for all involved, it was all so anticlimactic. The Jazz, who also face free agency questions with point guard George Hill and small forward Gordon Hayward, used their elite defense to win a first-round matchup for the first time since 2010.
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The Clippers, who simply couldn’t find another consistent scorer after Griffin was lost for the series with a right big toe injury in Game 3, shot just 43.8% overall and 24% from three-point range (six of 24). Paul, who will surely hear again how he has yet to get further than the second round in his Hall of Fame career, hit just six of 19 shots and finished with 13 points and nine assists.
The Jazz had seven players score in double figures, with Hayward (26 points, eight rebounds) leading the way while Hill and big man Derrick Favors had 17 points apiece. The slice of solace for the Clippers? At least they won’t run the risk of being embarrassed again by the Warriors, who have downed them in 10 consecutive matchups.
As playoff rewards go, it doesn’t get much worse than this for a Jazz team that fell to the Warriors twice in three regular season matchups. Not only do the Jazz have to face a Warriors team that won a league-best 67 games in the regular season despite missing Kevin Durant for 20 games because of a left knee injury. They’ll be seeing the rested-and-recovered version.
Golden State will be playing Game 1 on Tuesday after eight days of rest, having last played in their Game 4 win over Portland in the first round on April 24. In that time, the calf problem that kept Durant on the sideline for two games in the first round has healed.
Paul wasted no time finding a rhythm in the first quarter, scoring nine points as the Clippers overcame an early six-point deficit to tie it 24-24 entering the second. But in this setting where the margin for error is even smaller than your typical postseason affair, the Clippers unraveled a bit in the second quarter.
Even after Jazz big man Rudy Gobert drew his third foul, that huge French door swinging open for the Clippers to barrel through, they faltered. Utah used a 12-4 run to extend its lead to 11, with most of the stretch taking place with Paul on the bench. Redick blew a point-blank layup. Jordan botched a wide-open dunk. These are the kinds of mistakes that Game 7s don’t forgive, and so – with Jazz big man Derrick Favors tallying 10 points and nine rebounds by halftime – Utah led 46-39 at the break. The Jazz pulled away in the third, using a 15-4 run in which 35-year-old forward Boris Diaw had eight of his 10 points.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick on Twitter @Sam_Amick.