It was Chris Paul vs. the Jazz.
Paul was often untouchable and sometimes unguardable.
One against five, CP3 won.
The All-NBA point guard torched Utah’s defense, burned EnergySolutions Arena’s nets and never stopped firing Wednesday. By the time his one-man show was over, Paul had poured in a season-high 34 points on 15-of-24 shooting and the Los Angeles Clippers had claimed a 107-105 hard-fought victory over Utah.
Clippers-Jazz box score: http://bit.ly/yIo2c1
Everyone from Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin to Utah point guard Devin Harris and small forward C.J. Miles offered lofty praise postgame when asked about Paul’s 48-minute highlight reel.
Each used different words to described how he throttled Utah (12-8), running through the team’s defense like he had the Jazz tied to a string. Boiled down, though, Corbin and his players said the same exact thing: Paul has his game-changing reputation for a reason, and he only added to his legacy Wednesday.
“He’s a tremendous player. He does what he do,” Corbin said.
Al Jefferson’s 27 points and 12 rebounds topped Utah, which lost for the third time in five games.
Blake Griffin added 31 points and 14 rebounds for Los Angeles (13-6), who won for only the second time at ESA in 40 games since 1991.
Down 101-96 with 21.9 seconds to go, Utah found late life via 3-pointers by Paul Millsap and Miles. But Clippers guards Chauncey Billups and Mo Williams sank all six of their free-throw attempts down the stretch.
Miles said the resilient Jazz don’t think they’re ever out of a game and they proved it again Wednesday. But after watching Utah drop another winnable contest in the final seconds, he saw little positive in the last-second defeat.
“I don’t take nothing from it,” Miles said. “It’s a loss. I feel like it’s a game we should’ve won.”
Los Angeles played without Paul and Williams on Jan. 17, when the Jazz blew out the Clippers 108-79 at ESA. With L.A. coming off recent big-time wins against Denver and Oklahoma City, Corbin knew the high-flying Clippers would take the court primed for lift off.
It took Lob City just eight seconds to hit the lights, as Griffin rolled toward the rim and Paul tossed up a ball that was immediately slammed home.
The Clippers’ next four baskets came via dunks, with Utah failing to rotate and protect the lane.
“We just played with better intensity to start with,” Griffin said. “Last game was subpar effort-wise. [Wednesday] we put effort in.”
But Los Angeles wasn’t interested in playing defense, either. Seven of the Jazz’s first 15 points came via the fast break, a slam by Gordon Hayward gave Utah an early four-point lead, and the Clippers responded with a hastily called timeout.
Yet Griffin and Paul continued their two-man show, scoring 26 of the Clippers’ first 28 points and handing Los Angeles a 32-29 advantage heading into the second quarter.
“[Paul’s] just one of those guys that can make everybody on the floor better. He gets the ball in his hands. He makes the right decisions,” Miles said. “When you’ve got a guy out there that can make the big shot or assist somebody up … he makes it tough on you, and he showed [Wednesday] why.”
The Jazz weren’t down for long. Rookie center Enes Kanter showed off his outside touch, second-year forward Derrick Favors displayed some of his smoothest offensive moves of the season, and an 8-0 Utah run quickly blew up to 15-2, making it 44-34 Jazz with 8:47 left in the first half.
The remainder of the period was an arms race.
Paul kept firing away, recording 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting and dishing out eight assists before the break. But Jefferson was just as strong — 18 points, 9-of-11 shooting, five rebounds — and Utah carried a slim 58-56 lead into halftime.
Then the action froze. After combining for 114 points in the first half, Utah and Los Angeles recorded just 32 in the third quarter. The game completely slowed down, technical fouls were handed out as play became chippy, and Utah fought for a 74-72 advantage heading into the final period.
But Paul was just getting started. He scored 12 points in the fourth, single-handedly lifting up Lob City.
Paul did what he does, and the Jazz had no answer.
Jazz guard Raja Bell (strained right adductor) missed his second consecutive game and won’t travel with the team Thursday for a game at Golden State. … Starting point guard Devin Harris left the game with 7:18 remaining in the third quarter after a hard fall. He returned late in the period after dealing with a sore left hamstring and is expected to play against the Warriors. … Reserve point guard Earl Watson (left ankle sprain) exited with 1 minute left in the third and didn’t return. X-rays were negative. He will travel to Golden State but is doubtful. … Clippers starting small forward Caron Butler was a late scratch due to a sore lower back.
R In short • The Jazz claw back but fall late to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Key stat • Utah scores 40 of its 58 first-half points in the paint.
Key moment • Clippers guard Chris Paul dominates in the fourth quarter, scoring 12 of his season-high 34 points.
Jazz at Warriors
P Thursday, 8:30 p.m.
TV • ROOT Sports