Clippers coach Doc Rivers put it simply when he said Chris Paul willed his team to victory with the season on the line.
Paul scored 29 points and the Los Angeles Clippers forced a Game 7 in their first-round series with a 98-93 victory over the Utah Jazz on Friday night.
The Clippers will host the only do-or-die game of the first round Sunday, with the winner advancing to face the Golden State Warriors.
“It’s just Chris,” Rivers said. “He is as competitive as a human being as I’ve ever been around. When you put that with the talent and the will, that’s why he has performances like this in big games.
“Chris was amazing. He just willed the game for us.”
Los Angeles began to edge away in the third quarter and appeared to be in control when Austin Rivers capped a 9-2 run with a step-back 3-pointer that pushed the lead to 91-77 with 3:58 remaining.
He hit another with 1:29 left to make it 96-86, but Gordon Hayward scored seven straight to bring the Jazz within three before Joe Johnson missed a 3-pointer in the waning seconds.
Paul pushed Los Angeles throughout the night and just wouldn’t let the Clippers lose. The nine-time All-Star dominated and finished with eight assists, three rebounds and two steals. DeAndre Jordan added 13 points and 18 rebounds.
“We do it together,” Paul said. “I came to (Jordan) during one of those timeouts in the fourth and said let’s find a way. We’ve been in these situations time and time again. Some of us since we were kids playing AAU. You’ve just been in that situation. High school basketball. College basketball. It’s the same game, it’s just a lot more people at the games. You just go out there and try to stay in the moment.”
The Clippers overcame a slow start to finish at 49 percent shooting from the field. The Jazz went in the opposite direction, getting sloppy with the ball in the third quarter and making numerous defensive mistakes. They also shot just 41.0 percent from the field and were 7 for 26 from behind the arc.
Hayward led the Jazz with 31 points, George Hill added 22 and Rudy Gobert finished with 15 points and nine rebounds.
“I thought we were competing,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “I’m not sure if we got tired or got tired of missing. They were the more energetic team. Their physicality on the defensive end, we didn’t respond offensively the way that we needed to, or as forceful as we needed to be.
“When you’re not aggressive enough with your frame of mind, I don’t think you shoot the ball as well.”
The Clippers took a 47-45 lead into halftime after closing on an 8-2 run, including a pair of jumpers by Luc Mbah a Moute.
The Jazz jumped out to a 22-13 lead and looked to be on the brink blowing the game wide open before the offense went cold and the Clippers ripped off an 11-0 run. Utah shot just 3 for 13 from 3-point range in the first half and missed several wide-open attempts.
“Some days are diamonds, some days are stones,” Hayward said. “We didn’t shoot the ball well tonight. We got the looks we wanted, which is a positive thing for us. I think that’s the important part, we found the open shots, found the good looks.
“Dug ourselves a h*** there and it’s hard to dig out of it. I don’t think we were nervous, we just couldn’t find it tonight.”
Clippers: Austin Rivers started for the first time this series after missing the first four games with a hamstring injury. … Jordan’s six double-doubles in the first six games are a playoff high. … The Clippers held Johnson to 3-for-9 shooting.
Jazz: Utah is 5-1 all-time when leading a playoff series 3-2. … The Jazz opened the game as the only team in the playoffs ranking in the top three in field goal percentage and 3-point percentage.
Gobert was taken out of the game in the fourth quarter after suffering a mild left ankle sprain. X-rays were negative and he’s expected to be fine for Game 7.
The team with the points-in-the-paint advantage won the first five games. That streak came to an end as the Jazz outscored the Clippers 42-36 in the paint.
SOURCE: The Associated Press