For a while, the Utah Jazz looked a lot like the Los Angeles Clippers in one regard. Down by double digits, the Jazz clawed their way back over long stretches in a game they probably never should have been in.
Only two nights previous, these same Jazz enjoyed nearly a 20-point lead at home against what is without a doubt the hottest team in the NBA right now. Sunday, the Jazz were relegated to the fighter's role, trying to compete with a team that was in many ways superior.
Hot shooting from the perimeter was the name of the game for the Clippers, particularly early. The Clippers shot 50 percent from the field, and of all the stars Los Angeles has this year, it was Caron Butler who threw down 27 points, 17 of which came in the first quarter. Those points proved to be decisive, but they weren't the only factors that moved in the Clippers' favor.
Gordon Hayward's shooting woes
Hayward was Utah's second-leading scorer in this game with 15 points, but don't let that fool you. Hayward really struggled from the field in this game, particularly in crucial situations. He shot 33 percent, going 5 for 15, and no miss was bigger than a failed 3-point attempt during the third quarter.
At that point, the Jazz were in the midst of a 17-4 run and were shooting more than 70 percent from the field. The Jazz had barely retaken the lead when, on the break, the ball found its way to Hayward. He took a set 3-point shot that would have been huge for the Jazz, but like three of his four attempts from deep, the shot clanked off the iron.
With about eight minutes remaining in the game, the Jazz, trailing by five, dished the ball to Hayward again, and again, he shot it from deep and missed. Eric Bledsoe recovered a long rebound and broke the play out to Jamal Crawford in the front court. He pulled up for a very fast 13-foot jump shot that extended the lead to seven. What could have been Utah trailing by two turned into the Clippers leading by seven, a five-point swing.
Every player has an off night, and certainly the same can be said of Hayward, but there are bad nights, and then there are bad nights. Hayward followed up the five-point swing with an awkward fake-jump-shot-travel-turnover on the following possession.
In order for the Jazz to be a premier team in this league, they need a consistent shooter from deep. Hayward has tried very hard to fill that role this season, but it hasn't been enough.
DeAndre Jordan's free-throw shooting
Forty-one percent. That's DeAndre Jordan's free-throw shooting percentage this season. For his career, Jordan shoots around 43 percent. Yet despite this, Jordan banked in four straight free throws over the final three minutes to extend a lead and seal a win for the Clippers.
It's one thing when you have a high-profile, skilled, explosive big man. That other team in Los Angeles can tell you that. It's a totally different thing when your worst free-throw shooter can convert enough from the line down the stretch to win you a game, and that's something that the Lakers haven't quite perfected yet.
The weirdest thing about Jordan's new free-throw style is the fact that he's banking them in. Basketball is a mostly game of finesse and skill, but by banking in his free throws, Jordan is proving that it doesn't matter how the ball goes in the hoop just as long as the ball goes in the hoop.
DeMarre Carroll started this game over Marvin Williams because the latter had to sit it out with inflammation in his knee.
Carroll's calling card this season has not been scoring. Rather, it has been energy and enthusiasm, primarily on the defensive end and in the rebounding game. Carroll lived up to that reputation Sunday, scoring only six points but grabbing eight rebounds, four of which were offensive rebounds.
But the Jazz can only get so much scoring out of Al Jefferson — they need someone else in the starting lineup to significantly contribute and draw all those double teams away. Before he sprained his thumb, that someone alternated between Mo Williams and Randy Foye.
Now that Williams is out indefinitely, teams are more than comfortable to let Jefferson try to make something happen by himself, double-teaming him occasionally, while the rest of the Jazz sit around and watch. As the Jazz are finding out, this is not a recipe for success.
The Jazz are at their best when they force defenders to rush the perimeter. By doing so, they can drive the lane and make defenses collapse, leaving someone open underneath. Jamaal Tinsley is a master of either finding a good shot for himself or finding the open man when the defense collapses.
None of that happens, however, unless (No. 1) the Jazz can improve their outside shooting — Utah shot 41 percent from the field compared to L.A.'s 50 percent — and (No. 2) Utah can move the ball enough to find an open man.
There were eight players who hit double figures in this game. Remarkably, Blake Griffin was not one of them. Griffin scored seven points on 3-of-5 shooting, also going 1 for 4 from the line. Perhaps he should learn a thing or two from DeAndre Jordan.
Both Los Angeles and Utah had four players in double figures, and both teams had one player with around 30 points.
The only Jazz player with a positive plus-minus rating in this game was Alec Burks. In nearly 15 minutes on the floor, he scored two points, had two assists, and had a plus-minus rating of plus-3.