After playing in the finale of a five-game Christmas Day NBA special, the Clippers came to Salt Lake to take on the Jazz. Utah dropped their last game, played Wednesday night in Oakland against the Warriors. Both teams were without their power forwards Saturday night. Blake Griffin was out with a partially torn left quad, and Derrick Favors missed the game due to back spasms. The Jazz have an opportunity to pick up some wins, with five of their next six games coming at home. But this team has struggled to gain momentum all year. A win against the Clippers would be a good start to their stretch of winnable games. Unfortunately for the Jazz, they let a first half lead slip away.
The Jazz started well against the Clippers. They fed off of high energy from the crowd, sparked by a signature Alec Burks throw-down. However, with 30 seconds left in the second quarter he landed hard on a high-flying run into the lane. He came out of the game after missing both his free throws. Raul Neto started at point guard and played excellent defense on Chris Paul. Neto came up with a couple of steals to go along with 4 assists and 7 points. Gordon Hayward led the way with 15 points for the Jazz. The Clippers struggled to score in the first quarter, only totaling 18 points. However, they had a 30-point performance in the second quarter to keep them in it. The score at halftime was 48-53 for the Jazz.
The Clippers started hot in the second half. At one point in the third quarter they had a ten-point lead. The Jazz clawed back to keep it even most of the fourth quarter, but JJ Redick was too hot. He scored 25 in the game, going 5/7 from three. Paul Pierce also went 5/7 from three, scoring 20. Gordon Hayward had a strong performance himself, putting in 28 points with 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals. His effort wasn’t enough to lead the Jazz past the Clippers. The final score was 109-104 for LA. The absence of Alec Burks was felt late in the game, as the Jazz didn’t have a pressure valve for Hayward. It’s unclear how long Burks will be out. It was reported that he went down with concussion-like symptoms and a left ankle injury.
As the Jazz continue on without key players, certain guys are learning valuable lessons. Gordon has had to step up in huge ways this year. With Derrick Favors out in this game, Hayward showed his ability to lead the team. Rodney Hood got it going late, and Joe Ingles hit big shots in key moments. Still, the Jazz are missing something. It’s obvious that the spark they found last year hasn’t manifested itself this season. The Jazz can hope that it will be Rudy Gobert’s return that helps them pick these games up. But time keeps passing, and the Jazz are surviving rather than climbing the standings. The West is down, and they have had opportunities slip away several times this year. With Rudy out, the Jazz have had to learn to defend without him. It’s been a rough transition. They’ve been one of the league’s worst defensive teams in Gobert’s absence. The Jazz have a game against Philadelphia on Monday. That will be a good chance for them rebound. But if they want to be the team they set out to be, they need to learn how to win these close games so that there are fewer rebound games.