No star? No problem for Utah Jazz when Joe Johnson is there

By John Coon, The Sports Xchange  |  April 24, 2017 at 10:01 AM
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SALT LAKE CITY -- Whenever a star goes down, Joe Johnson keeps finding ways to deliver in the fourth quarter.

Johnson scored 13 of his game-high 28 points over the final seven minutes Sunday to lead the Utah Jazz to a 105-98 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 4 of their Western Conference first-round series.

Utah evened the best-of-seven series at two games apiece. It was the first home playoff win for the Jazz in seven years. Game 5 is scheduled for Tuesday in Los Angeles.

Just as in the opening game of the series, when Johnson stepped up after Rudy Gobert exited with a knee injury, Johnson came to the rescue once again when Gordon Hayward succumbed to food poisoning. Johnson did a bit of everything, from hitting floaters in the lane to dropping 3-pointers, to keep the Clippers' defense on its heels.

The veteran forward scored or assisted eight of Utah's final nine field goals.

"I'm just trying to get to a sweet spot," Johnson said. "Running pick-and-rolls with guys like Rudy, you're not going to get trapped as much because he's going to end up the one catching lobs. I make them kind of get deep inside the paint a lot and make plays for everybody, not just myself."

Gobert finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds in his first game back from a knee injury. Rodney Hood chipped in 18 points for the Jazz, and Derrick Favors added 17.

The Jazz won even though Hayward did not play in the second half. The forward left with 8:42 left in the second quarter and did not return. Hayward finished with three points and two rebounds in nine minutes.

"He was basically on his back up until game time," Utah coach Quin Snyder said. "He had IVs and whatever kind of anti-nausea stuff they were trying to give him to get him in a better place. He wanted to play and got out there and just didn't have anything."

After trailing for much of the fourth quarter, Utah took a 99-92 lead with 1:30 remaining behind a decisive 19-5 run. Johnson fueled the surge with baskets on five consecutive possessions -- ending in a go-ahead floater -- and Hood punctuated the spurt with back-to-back baskets.

"Joe got going," Clippers guard Chris Paul said. "I don't know how many he hit down that stretch. We got to do better on our defensive rotations. We got to get Utah running. Joe was unbelievable with his pace and how to get to his spots and stuff like that. We just got to make it tougher."

Paul totaled 27 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds to lead Los Angeles. Jamal Crawford chipped in 25 points off the bench for the Clippers, and DeAndre Jordan had 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Los Angeles played its first game without forward Blake Griffin, who was ruled out for the remainder of the playoffs Saturday due to a toe injury.

With Gobert back in the lineup and Griffin out, Utah dominated in the paint and on the glass. The Jazz had a 42-31 edge in rebounds and outscored Los Angeles 58-36 in the paint.

Gobert had an immediate and profound impact on both ends of the court in only 23 minutes.

"I was doing everything I could," Gobert said. "I was feeling good. I just missed the week. The knee is still fine. It's getting way better. It feels stable. It feels strong. I'm not thinking about the knee when I'm playing."

Bench production lifted Utah in the first quarter. Favors made three consecutive baskets after checking in for the first time. Johnson followed with a pair of floaters, and Hood drilled a 3-pointer to give the Jazz a 22-14 lead.

Los Angeles took advantage of a prolonged Utah offensive drought spanning the first and second quarters to reclaim the lead. The Jazz went nearly 4 1/2 minutes without scoring a point, opening the door for a Clippers run.

The Clippers ripped off a 15-4 run, capped by Raymond Felton's 3-pointer to open the second quarter, to take a 29-24 lead. Utah finally broke the ice on Hood's free throws with 9:49 left before halftime.

The Jazz closed the gap over the course of the second quarter and tied it on back-to-back baskets from Hood. Utah finally took a 53-49 lead on back-to-back layups from Gobert.

Los Angeles went back in front 63-61 after Paul turned a steal into a fadeaway jumper midway through the third quarter. Utah closed within a point twice late in the quarter on baskets from Johnson and Dante Exum. Felton and Paul answered with back-to-back 3-pointers to push the Clippers' lead back to 76-72.

Los Angeles built up an 87-80 advantage early in the fourth quarter, but momentum swung toward Utah when Crawford picked up his fifth foul and headed to the bench with 8:50 remaining.

"Foul trouble hurt us," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "That was a big foul -- that fifth foul when we had it going -- that was huge because we had to take (Crawford) off the floor. That left CP out there trying to create without Jamal. I thought that was a big turning point in the game."

NOTES: Clippers G Jamal Crawford made a playoff-career-high five 3-pointers. ... Jazz G Joe Ingles dished out a career-high 11 assists. His previous high was eight against Minnesota on April 7. ... Game 4 marked the first time in the series that Los Angeles finished with fewer points in the paint than Utah. ... The Utah bench outscored the Los Angeles bench 66-37.

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