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Kragthorpe: Jazz’s toughness surfaces in win over Clippers

First Published      Last Updated Apr 24 2017 09:47 pm


The music selection seemed out of character for a Jazz franchise that likes to comport itself humbly. As referees reviewed Rudy Gobert's latest dust-up with an opponent, here it came: "We're Not Gonna Take It."

Whoa. How about the Jazz, suddenly showing some attitude?

The team responded impressively Monday night, exactly a month after being thrashed by the Los Angeles Clippers — and about a month ahead of a potential playoff matchup with them. The 114-108 win at Vivint Smart Home Arena required the Jazz's overcoming Chris Paul's 33-point game by producing a 40-point third quarter and making clutch plays like Joe Johnson's baseline floater at the end, after they were in danger of blowing a 13-point lead.




This was good stuff, just when the Jazz needed it. The victory was mandatory for the Jazz (42-25) to have any chance of maintaining the No. 4 spot in the Western Conference standings — good for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Maintaining that edge probably will take the Jazz's beating the Clippers (40-27) again March 25 in Los Angeles, considering the teams' scheduling imbalance over the remaining 15 games. Afterward, Jazz coach Quin Snyder made sure to say, "We haven't done anything yet."

That's true. Yet what the Jazz accomplished Monday was prove they could score against a team that held them to 72 points in February, and establish themselves as capable of beating the Clippers in the playoffs.

I'm talking about a playoff game, not an entire series. Let's not get giddy here. But for all of the Jazz's relative struggles at home, they took down the Clippers for the first time in this building since January 2012, when Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap were the team's stars.

Snyder hustled across the court to restrain Gobert in the last 22 seconds, and he later worried aloud about the center's need to respect the game and his opponents. Even though the review resulted in Paul's technical foul (after Gobert received one earlier in the quarter), the Clippers will remember Gobert's antics when these teams meet again.

Snyder also knows that a competitive nature makes Gobert who he is, saying, "I don't want to stifle that in any way."

So whether their first home playoff appearance comes in Game 1 or Game 3 of a first-round series, the Jazz should follow Monday's script: Harald Rapp on the saxophone for the national anthem, contortionist Sofie Dossi as the halftime act and even a music mixup that shortened the Jazz Dancers' routine during a fourth-quarter timeout.

It's becoming clear: Beating the Clippers takes the best work of the Jazz, with some twists and turns and a little improvising. Occasionally, here in the Land of Defense, offense comes into play. The Jazz went 10 of 11 from 3-point range in the second half, when they scored 65 points. In the third quarter, George Hill shook off his first-half struggles to score 12 points and Joe Ingles added eight. In the fourth period, Gordon Hayward scored eight of his 27 points and Johnson added eight of his own, including the floating dagger for a 107-101 lead with 1:04 left.

The veteran lived up to Clippers coach Doc Rivers' pregame description of him: "Professional scorer."

Johnson's shot came right after the Clippers' Austin Rivers missed a 3-pointer that really would have led to some agonizing. But the Jazz reasserted themselves.

Reminded before the game that the Clippers had won 16 of the previous 17 meetings, Snyder dryly responded, "Well, that sounds like we've got a problem."

One victory won't solve everything, but it's a start. The Jazz showed some toughness Monday, and they'll need more of it in April.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt

 

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