SALT LAKE CITY — If Utah Jazz fans were excited to have their first look at the L.A. Clippers since last year ‘s epic seven-game first-round playoff series, they wouldn’t have recognized the lineup the Clippers threw out there Saturday night at Vivint Arena.
How many players were suited up for the Clips who played in last year’s Game 7 of the playoffs? That would be exactly zero.
Players such as J.J. Redick, Chris Paul, Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford have moved on to different teams. Austin Rivers and DeAndre Jordan are injured (Blake Griffin was injured last year in the playoffs).
This year, the Clippers retooled, bringing in players such as Patrick Beverly and Danilo Gallinari, but they, too, went out early with injuries. That left coach Doc Rivers with a rag-tag bunch including the likes of Willie Reed, Montrezl Harrell and Sindarius Thornwell, joining Griffin and prolific scoring guard Lou Williams.
Despite that, the Clippers have been perhaps the hottest team in the NBA over the last month, winning 12 of their last 15 and six straight coming into Saturday’s game.
“I’ve got a great group of guys,” said Rivers. “I’ve had the most fun that I’ve had in years coaching a group. It’s just a fun group to coach. They’re extremely coachable. They want to do right. They get along and play together, and sometimes you’re fortunate to win games.”
They didn’t have quite enough Saturday night, but they gave the Jazz a good scare in fighting back from a 25-point deficit to get within six in the final minute and a half.
FORMER JAZZMAN SURFACES: Tyrone Wallace was the last player taken in the 2016 NBA Draft, No. 60 by the Utah Jazz. Wallace played in the Jazz Summer League and for the Salt Lake City Stars last season, where he averaged 14.7 points in 38 games.
However, the Jazz let Wallace go and he was picked up by the Los Angeles Clippers last fall. After playing with the Clippers’ G League team, Wallace was signed to a two-way contract by the Clippers on Jan. 5 and has started five of the eight games since, including Saturday night’s game.
Wallace, who played college ball at Cal, finished with 12 points in 38 minutes, more than any player except Williams.
When asked before the game what Wallace has brought to the team, coach Doc Rivers replied, “a body, a warm body,” before getting serious.
“What I love about Ty is that his confidence is unshakeable,” Rivers said. “He walked in believing that he could do it. He is tough in the open floor. He attacks the paint, and, when he gets going downhill, he’s going to make the shot or you’re going to foul him. It’s really nice to have a 6-5 guard; we haven’t had a big guard since I’ve been here. He’s a big guard, and that’s really helped.”
“He was a good, instinctive player,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder about Wallace. “In this league, you either do something great, or a lot of things well. He does a lot of things really well to help the team win and that’s why Doc’s playing him the way he is.”
JAZZ NOTES: It’s back on the road for the Jazz, who will play three games against Eastern Conference teams, Atlanta Monday, Detroit Wednesday and Toronto Friday … The Jazz tied their season high with 29 personal fouls and the Clippers shot 38 free throws, making 30 … This was the second home back-to-back this year for the Jazz, who played New York Friday. In earlier back-to-back, the Jazz lost to Miami Friday and came back to beat Brooklyn Saturday night … The Jazz will have one more home back-to-back, on Feb. 23-24 when they face Portland and Dallas, respectively … In all, the Jazz will travel 10,189 miles this month after going 11,221 in December.