We’ve relied on him so much. He’s terrific. He’s had a great year. We can’t be discouraged we don’t have him. —Jazz head coach Quin Snyder
LOS ANGELES — They Utah Jazz weren’t just missing Rudy Gobert in their lineup for Game 2.
They missed him.
Other things the Jazz missed during much of their 99-91 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night at Staples Center: intensity, urgency, interior defense, an answer for Chris Paul's fierceness, rebounding and a lot of shots.
As a result, this first-round matchup will head to Utah all knotted up at one win apiece. The next two games will be at Vivint Arena, with the Jazz hosting their first home playoff game since 2012 on Friday and Game 4 taking place Sunday night.
Though it was a disappointing result for the Jazz, making this a tough game could be big for them and their confidence as they go back to Utah.
"A little frustrating game tonight for us," Jazz small forward Gordon Hayward said. "Felt like we didn't — we feel like we didn't play our best basketball, and we still were — we hung around. Besides the first quarter, I felt like we did all right."
In the meantime, this is just how the Clippers wanted this rubber match to play out — more physical, more aggressive, favorable result — after Utah shocked them Saturday with a 97-95 stunner despite Gobert’s early departure with a knee injury.
“Even though our defense was not very good, I thought our offense was worse,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before Game 2 tipped off. “You have to win with balance. We have to fix that. If we fix that, I think we’ll be good.”
Los Angeles did just that in this one, playing terrific and aggressive offense while flustering the Jazz on defense.
The Clippers’ biggest edge came in the area where The Stifle Tower would have had made a big difference — near the basket.
Los Angeles got off to a great start in the first quarter, outscoring the Jazz 18-0 in the paint for a 29-18 lead, and finished the game with a walloping 60-38 advantage in the key.
In that regard, it appeared as if the Jazz didn’t have the confidence without Gobert, in the paint at least, that their coach hoped they would.
"I just know that they were very good in that (pick-and-roll)," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said, "and that the ball got in the paint a lot, and we talked about that at halftime, and that was — they got in there a lot of ways. We just weren't able to contain the ball."
The Clippers got big showings from their Big Three as they beat the Jazz for the 19th time in their last 22 meetings. Paul finished with a spirited 21 points and 10 assists, Blake Griffin threw in 24 points, and DeAndre Jordan, not having to deal with Gobert, amassed 18 points and 15 rebounds.
One thing that kept the Jazz in this one was 3-point shooting. Utah hit 10 of 25 3s but only shot 45.7 percent overall.
Hayward led Utah with 20 points, but he only hit 5 of 15 shots. Derrick Favors and Joe Johnson, the Game 1 hero, each scored 13 points.
George Hill added 12 points, seven rebounds and four assists, but he was overshadowed by Paul in this showdown. Rodney Hood added 10 points.
"They adapted in some ways and played a little more inside," Jazz forward Boris Diaw said. "It is something we have to do better — not let them score inside."
Snyder anticipated that his team would be in for a heck of a fight after his team’s shocker in the opener.
“I don’t think I’m concerned about satisfaction,” Snyder said in reference to his team feeling like it didn’t need to play as hard in Game 2 because it won home-court advantage with its shocker three days earlier.
“Something else is in play, too, where the home team raises their play and it gets harder. I think we understand the moment, the situation, and how difficult it is to win two on the road. It was an uphill battle in the first one, and this one’s even steeper.”
Too steep, it turned out.
The Jazz never led, but they never relented, either.
Utah had its chances, too, but defensive rebounding came back to haunt them — another area in which the Jazz missed Gobert, one of the NBA's elite rebounders.
Utah had a chance to get closer than six midway through the fourth, but the Clippers grabbed two offensive rebounds and then Paul hit a jumper. Again, the Jazz were within six with a minute and a half left and had a chance to really put pressure on the home team, but they couldn’t grab a defensive rebound. This time, Griffin made them pay by hitting a 3-pointer to put L.A. up 97-88.
The closest Utah got in the second half was 55-52 in the third quarter, but Paul quickly took over to end that little surge of hope.
In rapid succession, Paul blocked a shot, hit a 3, made a steal and layup, and then helped forced the Jazz into a shot-clock violation.
And just like that, the Clippers’ lead was back up to double digits at 62-52.
The two-day break seemed like it might help the Jazz. For one thing, it gave some of their dinged-up players, particularly Favors and Hood, extra time to rest. It also figured to help Utah work on moving forward without Gobert, their steady force who’d only missed one game all season.
"We got really great contributions from all the guys who stepped in in Game 1 and we’re going to need the same thing tonight," Hayward said at shootaround earlier in the day. "We wish we could have everybody, but sometimes that's not how it works.
"It’s unfortunate what happened to Rudy," he added. "You can’t replace a guy like that, but you can try to do whatever you can to step up and fill some of the stuff that the does."
That wasn't the case on this night.