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Clippers defeat Jazz, clinch sixth consecutive playoff appearance

LOS ANGELES – Coming off of a disappointing loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday night, the L.A. Clippers returned home for a huge matchup against the Utah Jazz.

Entering today’s game, the Clippers trailed the Jazz by a game-and-a-half for the fourth seed and home-court advantage in the first round. Having won the first two games in the season series, the Clippers have a chance to win it 3-1 and hold the tiebreaker if it comes down to it. In a game that the Clippers essentially had to have in the chase for the fourth seed, they came out on top defeating the Jazz 108-95 thanks to the late-game heroics of the bench.

L.A. took control of the first half, holding the Jazz to just 39.5% shooting while shooting just 42.9% themselves. Despite the poor shooting of Chris Paul (1-of-8) and Blake Griffin (4-of-12), L.A.’s lead grew to as much as 16 in the second quarter. The lead was trimmed to just eight by halftime, and by the end of the third, Utah trailed by just two points at 72-70.

The Clipper bench, which had a hard time maintaining the lead to start the second quarter, took control in the fourth scoring 33 of the Clippers 36 points. Jamal Crawford scored 17 of his 28 points in the final period, and Mo Speights added nine of his total 11 points as well, helping L.A. fight off the feisty Jazz.

“The reserves saved us,” said coach Doc Rivers. “The starters got us the lead. I thought the first half was as good as I’ve seen us play in some ways because we couldn’t make a shot.

“And then in the second half, we got frustrated a little bit, but then the second-unit game in and saved the day for us.”

In the postseason, the game notably slows down and teams play with less pace. Against a defensive juggernaut like the Jazz, who allow just 96.5 points per game (first in the NBA) and 44.2% shooting (2nd in the NBA), an ugly game that results in a victory showed Rivers a lot about his team.

“We were missing layups, we were missing wide open threes, and yet, we were still up seven,” added Rivers about the first half of tonight’s game. “For me, from a coaching standpoint, I love that, because that’s going to happen [in the playoffs]. Your offense is going to fail you some nights, and mental toughness [showed] tonight. It would’ve been easy to get frustrated with the missed layups and open threes.”

“Overall, it was a good win for us.”

From the start of the season, the Jazz were seen as a playoff team if healthy and as the season has gone on, it’s becoming increasingly likely that the Clippers and Jazz will meet in the first round of the 2017 postseason. L.A. now sits just a half-game behind the Jazz and 1.5 games ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Although the players and coaches try not to look ahead, there’s no avoiding the topic of a potential playoff matchup.

“I think we’re pretty familiar with them as a team and their sets,” said Blake Griffin. “We’ve played them four times, twice in the preseason, but in the playoffs, everything changes. They’ll know all of our stuff, we’ll know their stuff, so it’s about the players. We’ll have to bring it.”

The Clippers turn around and play another afternoon game at Staples Center tomorrow against the Sacramento Kings, losers of four consecutive games.

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