SALT LAKE CITY -- Veteran leaders were brought to Utah during the offseason to help give the Jazz a final push back into the NBA postseason. Those veterans have the team within a game of winning a playoff series.
If the Jazz can beat the Los Angeles Clippers for a third straight time Friday night, Utah would advance to face the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference second round. Utah holds a 3-2 lead over the Clippers after winning 96-92 on Tuesday.
Los Angeles won three times in four games against the Jazz in the regular season.
"We have to have the desperation in going up to Utah and win it," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "We've won there before. We've won in the playoffs there before. This team is not going to quit, I can tell you that."
With stars Rudy Gobert and Gordon Hayward sidelined during key stretches of the series, Utah turned to playoff veterans such as Joe Johnson, Boris Diaw and George Hill to keep the ship from sinking in turbulent waters. Their leadership has proved invaluable in closing out several tight games.
"These guys have been there before," Gobert said. "We try to make the right play at the right time, and these guys know what to do, so we just trust them."
Johnson, in particular, stepped up big in the fourth quarter in each of the three Jazz wins. His knack for knocking down baskets at critical junctures has helped Utah close out the final minutes in those games.
The veteran forward averaged 21 points on 60 percent shooting in Utah's three victories. If the Clippers want to avoid a fourth loss to the Jazz, stopping Johnson and the other veteran playmakers will be absolutely critical Friday.
"They made really timely shots," Clippers guard Chris Paul said after the Tuesday game, noting that Johnson and Rodney Hood each came up with clutch fourth-quarter baskets. "It seems like that's been the case in just about every game in the series now. Now we've got to get to the drawing board and figure out how to make them miss. We can't hope they miss. We got to try to make them miss."
Paul has been doing his part to try to will Los Angeles to victory. He is averaging 27 points, 10.4 assists and 5.6 rebounds in the postseason, but he isn't getting consistent help on the offensive end.
Part of the issue is the Jazz defense has turned it up a notch since Gobert's return. Clippers guard Jamal Crawford exploded for 25 points in Game 4, but he disappeared in Game 5. Los Angeles guard J.J. Redick poured out 27 points in Game 5, but he struggled to find his shot in prior games.
In addition, Los Angeles forward Blake Griffin is out for the remainder of the postseason after sustaining a toe injury in Game 3.
Gobert has locked down the rim and crashed the boards, allowing the Jazz to clamp down on the wings better over the past two games. Utah outscored Los Angeles in the paint and finished with more total rebounds in each of those two wins.
Since his return from a knee injury in Game 4, Gobert has averaged 13 points, 12 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 2.5 steals in 30 minutes per game.
"He changes some things with his rim protection, but what he has given us on the boards on both ends of the floor (is critical)," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "He's had a number of games this year where he's had some big offensive rebounds late in the game. I can't say enough about him on the glass."