Los Angeles Clippers at Utah
Time: 9 PM CT (ESPN)
Spread: LAC -1.5
Odds c/o 5dimes
The Utah Jazz proved to be a bit more mortal without its key center Rudy Gobert in Game 2. The Los Angeles Clippers took advantage of the gaping hole in the middle of the Jazz defense to emerge with a 99-91 victory and tie the best of seven series 1-1. Now the series shifts back to Utah, and while Utah is expected to be without Gobert again, the Jazz will need to secure victory in what is often referred to as a crucial swing game in tied series. BPI projections favor the Jazz (52 percent chance of victory), but NBA oddsmakers at 5dimes do not. The Clippers enter as 1.5-point favorites in a game featuring another low over/under of 197.
How much does the Jazz’ tough defense rely on Gobert? It is difficult to say. The Clippers won Game 2 by scoring just 99 points, as the Jazz mustered just 91. Game 1 also featured just 192 combined points between the teams. To bet the ‘under’ on 197 is not as silly as it seems, considering the pace at which the Jazz play—the NBA’s slowest.
Moreover, Utah outside of lacking its center, does finally boast a healthy backcourt featuring George Hill who had a great season despite missing 33 games in the regular season. Thus far in the postseason he has proved vital. Hill had 16 points, two assists and four rebounds in Game 1, and he followed that with 12 points, four assists and seven boards in Game 2. Perhaps the biggest surprise has been Joe Johnson, who has defied his age to prove a very valuable contributor for the Jazz in this series, known most for hitting the game-winning shot in Game 1.
Free agent-to-be Gordon Hayward has played well, if not a lot: In 39.5 minutes per game over the first two, the swingman from Butler University has averaged 19.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and eight assists. Whether or not he remains in Utah past this season is a topic of hot debate, but he would be wise to consider doing so.
The Jazz has crafted one of the league’s most balanced teams, and it is a club built for postseason success. Johnson stepping up to score 34 points through the first two games only shows the shrewdness of upper management to add such veterans to the team. Derrick Favors and Rodney Hood are both playing their parts, in combining to average 23 points. And one cannot forget Joe Ingles, who despite scarcely resembling an NBA player in physical appearance, is absolutely lethal from behind the arc. Ingles is shooting 37.5 percent from three-point range in this series, which is actually down from his mark of 44.1 percent during the regular season.
To see Ingles catch fire would be no surprise, and while the Jazz has tightened up its player rotation in the postseason, Ingles minutes have only increased (24 during the regular season to 33 through games 1 and 2). Utah seemingly has all the right stuff, and despite NBA oddsmakers favoring the Clippers, the Jazz have to be considered the actual favorites in this game based on the analytics and opinions of true NBA experts. Those who slept on this club due to its lack of star power have ignored how brilliant Hayward’s overall play is, and perhaps also the value of defense. With two teams so evenly matched (both won 51 games in the regular season) history favors the team that is better on the defensive end of the court, and that is the Jazz.
That said, Chris Paul and his Clipper mates certainly feel they have plenty to prove. Paul and power forward Blake Griffin both become free agents this offseason, and speculation has also abounded regarding the fate of head coach Doc Rivers. Whether or not the Clippers advance past this series, it is unlikely the club can surmount any of the other top clubs in the West, with San Antonio and Golden State having both superior teams and recent history on their sides.
The Clippers have had a good run as a quasi-contender, but a true contender they are not, nor have they been. One problem is that even with Gobert out of the lineup for the Jazz, the Clippers have no real post presences to exploit that hole in Utah’s defense. Sure, DeAndre Jordan is good for some cutbacks and lob passes, but he is not a threat with his back to the basket, nor does Blake Griffin play much in the post. The Clippers are a strong offensive team, but not in the manner that can pose many problems to a team defense as cohesive as Utah’s. While it is only an upset to NBA oddsmakers, expect the Jazz to pull the slight “upset” in this game and walk away with a 2-1 series lead.