If this season ends at the same stage as the last, the Clippers will look back on Sunday night and ask themselves, "What if …?" What if they had closed out Game 4 of their opening-round playoff series against the Utah Jazz? What if they had made a basket or two over a crucial three-minute stretch in the fourth quarter? What if they had prevented 35-year-old Joe Johnson from scoring 11 consecutive points on them? The game was there for the Clippers to take. The series was there for them to win.
With Blake Griffin out (plantar plate right big toe injury), the Clippers had difficulty rebounding the basketball against the Utah Jazz in Game 5 Tuesday night at Staples Center. DeAndre Jordan had his usual haul of rebounds, collecting 12. But beyond that, Chris Paul and Luc Mbah a Moute were next in line with four each. As a result, the Clippers were out-rebounded 43-34 by the Jazz, which now leads the series 3-2 with Game 6 Friday night in Salt Lake City. The Clippers gave up seven offensive rebounds.
In playoff basketball, one big toe can make a huge difference. The subtraction of Blake Griffin -- sidelined by an injured plantar plate in his right foot -- has triggered a multiplier effect in the Clippers' first-round playoff matchup against the Utah Jazz. "We need two or three other guys to make up the Blake difference," Coach Doc Rivers said The second unit is merely one reason the Clippers have fallen behind 3-2 in this best-of-seven series. On Tuesday night, in particular, there were too few rebounds, too few defensive stops. But the key reserves -- minus an injured Austin Rivers for much of the past two weeks -- have fallen more than a dozen points short of their combined scoring average from the regular season.
Since February 2012, the Clippers have been the rulers of the regular-season series against the Utah Jazz. Surely then, it was suggested to Chris Paul, the Clippers must be brimming with confidence for their first-round playoff matchup against the Jazz that starts Saturday night with Game 1 at Staples Center. The Clippers won the season-series 3-1. They won 15 of 16 games against the Jazz before this season started. The Clippers won 13 in a row during that stretch.