Exhibit A: Gordon Hayward tangling with Chris Paul near the end of the fifth game. You saw what happened. With the outcome on the line, the two star players were fighting for the ball and … in Hayward's words: "When there's a little scrum like that, you know, you want to make sure you get the ball and come out with the ball. He tried to take it from me, so I just didn't let him. It's just competitive adrenaline."
The "little scrum" looked like an old cartoon, where two characters get in a brawl, there's a cloud stirred up around them, and then … and then, Hayward walks the other way with the ball in his hand.
It wasn't so long ago when the Jazz were considered, as one writer infamously put it, the nicest, most likable team in the NBA. The Lakers were the most-hated team in that league ranking because they no longer were good but refused to acknowledge it. The Jazz were considered the easiest team to like, "with no rough edges to irritate." Even worse, they were said to have "no dominant style about which to turn up your nose, no offensive personalities at which to seethe."
That's the worst thing anybody can say about a team.
Everybody knows where nice guys finish, eh?
Well … that was then, this is now.
Now, the Jazz are a pain in the A.
Nobody likes playing them, not anymore, not the least of which are the Clippers.
They're difficult at the defensive end, led by Gobert blocking and altering shots, closing off the paint, always a threat to embarrass guys on the drive, guys who loathe nothing more on the floor than having their attempts blocked. The Jazz are hardly bullies. They don't shove around teams, don't cheap shot opponents, don't talk a lot of trash. They just wear them down to the nub. They set pick after pick after pick, always moving the ball and setting more picks. And they frustrate teams with their deliberate style of play, grabbing the speed of the game by the throat and strangling it until the oxygen is choked off. They whittle down the entire thing to an obnoxious grind.
"We want to try to control the game and play at our pace, make the other team have to guard the whole possession, make them try to scramble," Hayward said. "It's tiring when you're guarding for 20 seconds and somebody gets a wide-open shot. It's a draining effect, and so I think at the end of the game, something that we're definitely used to is playing slow."
Paul was furious at the conclusion of Game 5, when the Clippers had been unable to win an important game on their home floor in front of their home fans. He clenched his fist and slapped his hands. Seething is what he was doing, although it's hard to tell exactly who he was mad at. It might be his own guys. It might be the Jazz. It might be the world as we know it.
In Tuesday night's postgame, Paul got angry at a reporter's question in an exchange that went like this:
Reporter: "Will the Clippers be back here Sunday, playing a Game 7?"