It's round one of the NBA Playoffs and this series is going to be a classic.
The Jazz and the Clippers have been vying for the 4th spot in the Western Conference the past few weeks and despite the Jazz beating both the Warriors and the Spurs to end the season and better their chances of taking the 4th seed, the Clippers secured that spot and home court advantage by winning seven straight games to end the regular season. As both teams are set to begin their best of seven series on Saturday, let’s take a look at the marquee matchups to keep your eyes on throughout this series.
Rudy Gobert vs DeAndre Jordan
This might be the most important matchup of the series for both teams. Gobert and Jordan are the anchors for their respective defenses, altering or blocking shots inside and they both can grab a ton of rebounds. However, they both possess the ability to explode to the rim; finishing off alley-oops or pick and roll plays with relative ease. Without either of them down low, neither team would be here.
Throughout the season series, Rudy Gobert averaged 13.8 points per game, making 69 percent of his shots, 11.8 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks. DeAndre Jordan averaged 9.0 points per game, making 47 percent of his shots, 12.8 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks. As far as free throws are concerned, the Jazz should have the luxury of the “Hack-a-Shaq” strategy if they need it, Jordan shot a miserable 48 percent from the line during the season, where Gobert did significantly better, knocking down his free throws 65 percent of the time.
Rodney Hood vs J.J. Redick
The battle between Rodney and J.J. is pretty straight forward; they can both shoot the ball. But Rodney should have the edge because of his ability to create his own shot off the dribble or by rising up over his defender. J.J., on the other hand, is primarily a catch-and-shoot guy who loves to hang out behind the three point line. The biggest issue with this matchup is the nagging knee injury that has hampered Rodney’s season. During the course of the season series, he shot a miserable 27 percent from the field, 33 percent from three, and averaged 6.7 points over three games. Redick, on the other hand, hasn’t had any nagging injury and has shot the ball very well at 41 percent from the field, 33 percent from three, but has only averaged 11.5 points in those four games.
Another thing to consider in this matchup is what happens when they’re both on the bench. Jamal Crawford is an offensive powerhouse - he reminded everyone of that fact when he obliterated the Jazz in their last meeting in Salt Lake City - but if he ever played defense, you’d wonder if he was sick or something. Both Alec Burks and Joe Ingles are more than capable of playing defense and scoring on the offensive side of the ball and Crawford couldn’t stay with them if he tried.
Derrick Favors vs Blake Griffin
Derrick Favors has had one hell of an injury-filled year, and frankly, he hasn’t been himself when he did play. Blake Griffin has also had a stint with injury in the middle of the year, but since he returned to his regular spot, he’s been his usual self. So why am I putting this as a key matchup for the series? It’s simple; the Jazz don’t stand a chance of advancing to the next round without him. Even if Trey Lyles hadn’t disappeared from the world of production, or Joel Bolomboy had actually seen significant playing time throughout the year, Blake Griffin would still get anything he wanted. Derrick Favors played three of the last four games of the season for the Jazz, and he looked far more comfortable on the court and didn’t show any signs that his knee was bothering him and looked like his usual dominant self. Sure, he didn’t put up eye-popping numbers, but even with his minute restrictions, he was playing like he did a year ago. As long as Favors is healthy for this series, Griffin will have a much more difficult time doing what he’s expected to do, and this means good things for the Jazz.
Despite the Clippers taking the season series, they have never played against the Jazz at full strength. The Jazz are 13-2 when everyone has been healthy, and the Clippers are riding a seven-game winning streak. This playoff series is going to be physical and exciting. Hell, we may see Joe Ingles get in an actual fight for once. Both teams are going to be hungry to advance to the next round, but the fact that the Jazz haven’t been here in five years and they’re finally healthy at the right time could very well mean the Jazz advance to the next round. Either way, this series already has the potential to become an NBA Classic.