Finally, the Jazz have proved to themselves they can beat a Clipper team performing at playoff intensity, with Chris Paul playing at the top of his game. That's no small feat. Before Monday night, Los Angeles had beaten Utah 16 of the last 17 times the two teams met. The Clippers smacked the Jazz around twice this year in easy victories.
As a result, Monday night represented an almost must-win for the Jazz. And the Jazz responded.
"This was definitely about proving to ourselves we could beat them," Utah point guard George Hill said. "We knew we could compete with them, but it was a matter or doing it and not talking about it. That's a great team over in that locker room. We played well defensively in the first two games, but we didn't make shots. We knew we had to keep challenging defensively and hoping that our shots would go in, and tonight they did."
It wasn't easy. Paul — one of the best guards in the league — was in playoff form, making seemingly impossible shots, darting through Utah's defense for mid-range jumpers and generally carrying the Clippers with a season-high 33 points to go along with seven assists.
Los Angeles led for much of the first half, and eventually took a 72-63 advantage midway through the third quarter. A sellout crowd was nervous at that point, and the Jazz were reeling.
But Utah's veterans — the ones general manager Dennis Lindsey acquired in the summer — proved huge down the stretch. The Jazz rallied by the end of the third quarter behind Hill and Joe Johnson.
Hill scored 10 of his 19 in that third quarter, many of them important. Johnson carried the Jazz home, scoring eight in the fourth quarter, including a dagger 3-pointer in the waning moments that put the game out of reach.
"I think sometimes we're kind of due," Utah coach Quin Snyder said. "I thought we weren't turning the ball over, and we shared the ball well. I thought Joe Ingles kept us in it by making a lot of big shots. Sometimes it all looks good when the ball goes in."
Offensively, the Jazz came up with a huge night. They shot 52 percent from the field, and made 14 of 21 from 3-point range. They went 18 of 22 from the free-throw line, scored 36 points in the paint and scored 46 points off the bench.
Hayward led the Jazz with 27 points, four assists and three rebounds. But he got help from many other sources. Ingles scored 18 points. Rudy Gobert — who frustrated Clippers star center DeAndre Jordan all night — scored 11 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Johnson had 14 points. Dante Exum scored eight big points in the second half.
Most importantly, the Jazz got defensive stops when they needed them. Paul was dominant through the first three quarters, but was 2 of 5 for five points down the stretch. Los Angeles' other star — Blake Griffin — scored eight points total against a Utah team missing Derrick Favors, its starting power forward.
The Jazz move to 42-25 on the season. They move two games ahead of the Clippers in the race for the fourth spot.
"We needed this game," Hayward said. "We got killed by them last time in our building, so we wanted to come out here and play well. We did that tonight."