Joe Johnson didn’t have the game of his life on Saturday night, but he was aware enough to breathe life into his new team when it needed it the most, and the 35-year old had enough in the tank to provide his Utah Jazz with a thrilling, if loping, game-winner against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Johnson played 31 minutes in the contest and scored 21 points in the 97-95 win, with 14 coming in the first half. Chris Paul paced the Clippers with 25 points and 11 assists, as the Jazz took a 1-0 series lead.
“We got a great young team, we just have to keep fighting,” Johnson told ESPN’s J.A. Adande after the game. “Our big fella went down, but we made up for it with a lot of effort, and a lot of hustle plays. We knew they were going to write us off with the big fella down, but guys stepped up and made plays.”
That’s just the Joe we know:
Joe Johnson has now made an NBA-best 8 game-winning buzzer-beaters (reg season and playoffs) in the last 10 seasons.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 16, 2017
It was the best possible scenario for a Jazz team shook to its core in the opening minutes, after center Rudy Gobert fell in the game’s first minute with what has been diagnosed as a knee sprain, with an MRI to come. With Gobert out for the Jazz’s first contest, Derrick Favors picked the right time to remind us while why the former No. 3 overall pick was once thought of as a franchise player. He had to do as much, on Saturday, because his team’s season depended on it.
With Gobert out with a knee sprain that could turn into much worse, Favors contributed 15 points in his team’s upset win. Just one part of a potent, balanced attack that had the Clippers and coach Doc Rivers in fits throughout the team’s loss.
All-Star Gordon Hayward gave the Jazz 19 points and 10 rebounds in his first postseason contest as a go-to star, while the team’s 42 percent three-point shooting kept the Clippers on their heels throughout.
Even with Gobert off to the side.
The Jazz center will undergo an MRI on Sunday to determine the extent of his knee injury, and any cartilage or ligament tear could knock him out for the entierty of Utah’s postseason run, its first in five years.
The Clippers aren’t crying for anyone, at this point. Especially when the best assumptions met up later on Saturday night with the nicest of outlooks: The Vertical’s Shams Charina reports Gobert suffered no structural damage to his left knee in the fall.
The Clippers could be in the final year of a run that has paired Paul and Blake Griffin (26 points on 9-21 shooting, six turnovers, ineffective play down the stretch) alongside coach Doc Rivers since 2013. That run hasn’t made its way toward the Western Conference finals yet, and Rivers was none too keen on giving up a regular season’s worth of home-court advantage away over the course of one evening.
“We fought until the end of the year to get” home-court advantage, “and now we give it right back.”
Without acting the martyr, Rivers relayed from Los Angeles that Gobert’s absence “hurt us a little bit,” in the way the lack of a go-to center “helped them” move into smaller lineups that “stretched the floor.” One Utah lineup, featuring Johnson and Hayward alongside hybrid guard Joe Ingles, Favors in the pivot with George Hill, proved wondrous for the Jazz in both halves of the win.
(Later in the same press conference, Rivers chided a reporter who wondered why the Clippers didn’t take more time off the clock prior to Chris Paul’s desperation runner with just 13.1 seconds to go:
It is true that CP3’s make allowed the Jazz the extra time to work up a possession and a half prior to Johnson’s game-winner, but these aren’t video game odds here. Tempting fate with something approximating a walk the dog play with so little time left in the game, while down two, would serve as an incredible risk.
And an unlikely one, considering the fact that Doc Rivers has Chris Paul to trust in this instance.)
The Clippers have much to work on. The spacing around Blake Griffin has to change, especially in light of what Rivers decided were not significant Jazz adjustments down the stretch. The Clipper offense was labored throughout, and while there are sprains to consider Los Angeles should not count Rudy Gobert out just yet.
Given good health, this should stand as a satisfying start to a fantastic series.
– – – – – – –