We’re now two games into this series, and its overall outcome changed drastically in the first 17 seconds. Let’s take a look at our previous matchup preview.
Rudy Gobert vs. DeAndre Jordan
Before the series started, I said that this might be the most important matchup of the series for both teams, because of the impact they both have around the basket. Lo and behold, the injury bug that has plagued the Jazz all year reared its ugly head again, on the first possession of Game 1. Rudy Gobert went down setting a screen for Gordon Hayward, suffering a hyperextension and bone contusion in his left knee. Gobert tried to get up and crawl his way to the other end of the court to get back on defense, which is a testament to the motor Gobert possesses, matched only by Russell Westbrook; he doesn’t know how to quit. Despite Gobert’s unfortunate and untimely injury, Joe Johnson took over the game offensively and drained the buzzer-beating shot to steal Game 1 in dramatic fashion.
DeAndre Jordan has had his way because of this, averaging 14 points over two games, making 72 percent of his shots, hauling in 15 rebounds, a steal, and two blocks. The Jazz were able to make his life difficult in Game 1, but in Game 2, however, DeAndre (and the rest of his team) were able to get to the rim at will, scoring 60 points in the paint. Without Gobert, the Jazz need to figure out how to stop the Clippers from penetrating inside like they did in Game 2 by clogging up lanes as a unit and use the reserves to foul DeAndre and force him to make his free throws.
Rodney Hood vs J.J. Redick
The battle between Rodney and J.J. is boring in many respects, but both defenses have done a great job of containing one another on the perimeter. Rodney has shown his ability to create his own shot off the dribble, but it hasn’t come with much consistency. J.J. on the other hand, a catch and shoot guy who loves to hang out behind the three point line, has been forced away from the ball or has penetrated the paint for kick outs or inside passes to Blake or DeAndre. Over the course of these past two games, Rodney Hood is averaging nine points, shooting better than he did in the season series at 36 percent, has dished out an assist, snagged one steal and has drained 83 percent of his free throws. Redick hasn’t been able to get the looks he thrives on and has been forced to put the ball on the floor. He’s averaging 11 points, shooting 39 percent from the field, two assists, a steal, and the only free throw he’s taken all series, he missed.
I also pointed some attention to Jamal Crawford, and Jazz fans should be happy to see that this team has done a great of containing him so far. Over two games, he’s averaging nine points, shooting 29 percent from the field — which is virtually unheard of for a guy that can light it up when he gets going — and he’s made both of the free throws he’s taken. It will be interesting to see what happens in game’s three and four of this series as the Jazz will clearly put a bigger emphasis on keeping players out of the paint.
Derrick Favors vs. Blake Griffin
Derrick Favors was forced into a much bigger role when Rudy went down, and in Game 1, he did exactly what he was supposed to. He scored 15 points while shooting a blistering 70 percent from the field, hauled in six rebounds, and got one block. However, the biggest concern was his free throw shooting, where he made just one of the four shots he attempted, equating to 25 percent from the line. Game 2 was very much the same statistically, but it’s all too obvious that his knee is still bothering him. Not only was Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan eating him up inside, but so was the rest of the Clippers squad. His lateral movement was labored and slow, letting people blow right past him. If the Jazz are going to slow the Clippers down low, he’s going to have to learn how to position himself better to get stops as well as offensive and defensive rebounds.
Because of this, Blake Griffin has been able to get into the paint at will, but thankfully, he’s missed his fair share of shots. Over these past two games, he’s averaging 25 points and shooting 48 percent from the field. He also hasn’t been too much of a factor on the boards, averaging six a game. His defense hasn’t been that great either, getting one steal in Game 1 and a block in Game 2. He’s also been extremely efficient from the charity stripe, making all seven attempts from the line. He’s also drained three of the five three-pointers he’s taken, which doesn’t bode well for a sluggish Derrick Favors.
George Hill vs. Chris Paul
I’m throwing this matchup into the mix because George Hill’s importance as the starting point guard is tantamount to the Jazz having any shot at winning this series, now that Gobert isn’t down low to protect the rim. Over the course of this series, Hill is averaging 14 points on 48 percent shooting, 5.5 assists, and one steal. His free throw chances have been close to nil as well, attempting two of them in Game 1 and zero attempts in Game 2. George Hill has to be more aggressive at attacking the paint to either score, kick out to the open man, or draw fouls. It also wouldn’t hurt to play better defense on Chris Paul, who’s had his way throughout this series. He’s averaging 23 points a game, shooting 56 percent from the field, 10.5 assists, three steals, and hasn’t missed a free throw yet. That’s not to say the Jazz haven’t been trying to force him into mistakes by making his life difficult, but the guy is just too smart and good to give him any kind of breathing space.
Gordon Hayward, Where Are You?
It can’t go without mentioning the lack of production from Gordon Hayward. The first time All-Star is struggling, to say the least, to get good looks and drain them. Give credit to Luc Mbah a Moute though; he’s been attached to Hayward on virtually every possession. Even when Hayward has gotten looks or attempts to drive to the basket, he’s not making them count. In this series, he's averaging 19.5 points per game and making 36 percent of his shots from the field and 42 percent from behind the three-point line. He's also averaging eight rebounds over these two games and has dished out 2.5 assists. This is an ongoing thing for Hayward over the years, he all but disappears in important games. He’s not aggressive when he needs to be and isn't making the shots he needs to on a consistent basis. His lack of offensive production and efficiency is hurting the Jazz in a big way. Before Joe Johnson drained the game-winning shot in game one, Hayward had the ball on four straight possessions and missed every single one of them. Gordon needs to start playing like an All-Star again because as of right now, the Jazz are desperate for someone to explode offensively and extend this series long enough for Rudy Gobert to return, if at all.