LOS ANGELES — Less than 20 seconds into the game, Jazz center Rudy Gobert moved to set a screen for Gordon Hayward only to bang knees with Clippers forwrd Luc Mbah a Moute. Gobert immediately had to helped to the locker room and the series already looked to have shifted before it ever even started.
Not so fast.
What the Jazz showed Saturday is that they — at least compared to their opponents — have a team of individuals who are better at handling adversity. Although a postgame MRI revealed no structural or ligament damage, Gobert’s left knee sprain took away Utah’s defensive leader and potentially most consistent player all-around.
The team leader in rebounds, blocks and minutes played who missed all but one game was gone, just like that, and the Clippers had a chance to set the tone for the entire series with a win at home.
“Me and Blake looked at each other and was like, the hell with it; we’ve got to play,” point guard Chris Paul said. “We’ve got to worry about us; know what I mean? I hope he’s OK and stuff like that, but we’ve got to worry about our team.”
Utah weathered the storm, though, as they stayed within striking distance despite a 20-point first half from Blake Griffin. The Jazz turned to a smaller lineup with Derrick Favors and Joe Johnson getting the brunt of the minutes, a strategy that worked out surprisingly well as the Clippers’ perimeter threats of J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford struggled down the stretch.
Griffin finished with six turnovers, overshadowing the strong start to the game he had offensively.
And in the end, it was ‘Iso Joe’ who had the last word.
“It sucks that we lost,” Paul said, “and to tell you the truth, we’ve sucked pretty bad here at home here in the playoffs anyway, know what I mean? We lost, I think, most of the series, the home games. Now we’ve got to see what we’re made of.”