The Los Angeles Clippers won their first game in Salt Lake City in more than nine years Wednesday night, as Chris Paul and Co. narrowly escaped the Utah Jazz, 107-105, at Energy Solutions Arena.
It was the Clippers first victory against the Jazz since January 22, 2003. CP3 ripped Utah for double-double, including a season-high 34 points on 15-of-24 shooting, to go along with 11 assists, ending the Clippers’ 16-game losing streak in Salt Lake City. Wednesday’s match up was a complete reversal from the teams’ first meeting last month, when the Jazz danced to a 108-97 win. Paul (strained left hamstring) and Mo’ Williams (sore right foot) didn’t play in the game. This time they did, and both delivered big plays for the Clippers. Paul orchestrated the win, Blake Griffin provided the power, and with Caron Butler sidelined due to a sore lower back, Williams filled the void by knocking down clutch shots and free throws in the end.
With L.A. coming off big wins against the Denver Nuggets and Oklahoma City, including Griffin’s posterizing dunk on Kendrick Perkins on Monday, it didn’t take the high-flying Clippers long to get their show on the road. It took Lob City just eight seconds to take flight in the opening quarter, as Griffin rolled towards the rim and Paul tossed up a lob that was immediately slammed home after the tip. The Clippers’ next four baskets came via dunks -courtesy of Griffin (3) and DeAndre Jordan’s monster one-hander in the paint- with the Jazz failing to rotate to protect the lane. CP3 and Griffin combined for 26 of L.A.’s 32 first quarter points. Williams connected on a four-point play for the Clippers late in the quarter after being fouled on a 3-point shot by the Jazz’s forward Josh Howard. The Clippers performance on Wednesday night was a stark contrast to that of Jan. 17th. But despite L.A.’s fast start, Utah came to play as well. Seven of the Jazz’s first 15 points came on fast breaks and a dunk by Gordon Hayward gave Utah an early four-point lead. But still, L.A. held the advantage after one, 32-29.
Both teams were hot in the first half, with the Jazz shooting 61 percent (27-of-44) and the Clippers shot 53 percent from the field (24-for-45). Utah’s second-year forward Derrick Favors started the game 4-of-4 from the floor for 10 points and sparked an 8-0 Jazz run that quickly ballooned up to 15-2 for a ten point Utah lead, 44-34, with 8:47 left in until half. Despite the margin, CP3 kept the Clippers in it, recording 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting and dishing out eight assists before the break. Al Jefferson, who scored 18 points on 9-of-11 shooting, gave Utah a slim 58-56 lead into halftime. After combining for 114 points in the first half, both teams went cold and just recorded 32 in the third quarter. The game became chippy as both Williams and Hayward were hit with double-technical’s in the period. Yet, still, Utah clung 74-72 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
The final period belonged to CP3. The four-time NBA All-Star put on a one-man show, torching Utah’s defense and burning down the nets at ESA. Paul scored 12 points in the fourth, with his 3-pointer with 6:08 remaining giving the Clippers an 86-84 lead and his reverse layup later extending their margin to 92-87. Despite Paul’s run, Utah was resilient. Behind a pair of 3-pointers by Paul Millsap, the Jazz narrowed the gap to two. Griffin picked up his fifth foul with 5:54 left on a reach-in defending Millsap. He redeemed his silly foul with a key stop. With the Clippers clinging to a 94-92 lead, Griffin took a charge against Millsap that gave L.A. the ball with 1:28 to play. Out of a Clippers timeout, Paul struck again, scoring on a straightaway jumper to push the lead to 96-92. After Jefferson made a pair of free throws and Paul missed a shot on the Clippers’ next possession, Williams outhustled everyone for the offensive rebound while getting fouled in the process. He sank both shots from the stripe for a 98-94 L.A. lead with 30.7 seconds left. Jefferson narrowed the gap for Utah, but made a weak foul attempt on the ensuing play, with Griffin scoring the And-1 on a two-on-one fast break. Griffin converted the free throw to complete the three-point play for a 101-96 Clippers advantage. Millsap knocked down another pair of 3-pointers to pull the Jazz within one, 103-102, but clutch free throws from Chauncey Billups and Williams –nine free throws in the final 30 seconds- allowed the Clippers to escape this one, 107-105.
The Clippers (13-6) have now won four games-in-a-row. The Pacific Division leaders “hell” week began with beating the Nuggets on Sunday, defeating a Thunder team with the best record in the NBA on Monday and edging out a Jazz team that is now 10-4 at home. Paul finished with 34 points, 11 assists, five rebounds and three steals. Griffin had 31 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots. Williams contribute 19 points off the bench and Billups, who was 1-of-8 from the field, finished with eight points, seven rebounds and three assists. Jordan added eight points and 11 rebounds for L.A. The Clippers will play their fourth game in as many nights as they host the Nuggets at Staples Center on Thursday night.
The Jazz (12-8) dropped another close game in the final seconds. Jefferson finished with a double-double of his own, with 27 points and 12 rebounds to lead Utah. Millsap’s 14 points and seven rebounds kept the Jazz in it towards the end. Starting point guard Devin Harris, who left the game in the third quarter with a sore left hamstring, but later returned, finished with eight points and four assists. Favors finished with only 14 points after his hot start. Former Butler University star Hayward finished with 12 points and three rebounds. Howard had four points and three rebounds. Jazz guard Raja Bell missed his second consecutive game with a strained right adductor. Utah will head to the Bay on Thursday to face the Golden State Warriors.