The young Utah Jazz have grown up quickly.
Gordon Hayward scored 26 points and the Jazz eliminated the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday with a 104-91 victory, closing out the first-round series 4-3 to earn the franchise’s first postseason victory since 2010.
”We’ve been through some pretty hard downs,” said Hayward, a seventh-year veteran. ”It definitely feels really good to go from 25 wins to where we were this year making the playoffs, winning a series.”
George Hill and Derrick Favors added 17 points apiece for the Jazz in what proved to be the easiest game of the back-and-forth series.
The Jazz advanced to face top-seeded Golden State in the Western Conference semifinals. The Warriors swept Portland 4-0 and have been waiting since Wednesday to find out their next opponent.
Game 1 is Tuesday in Oakland.
The Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan had 24 points and 17 rebounds for his seventh double-double of the series. Jamal Crawford added 20 points off the bench.
Chris Paul had 13 points for the Clippers, who were sent packing in the first round for the second straight year. Last season, they lost to Portland after Paul and Blake Griffin went down with injuries. This time, they didn’t have Griffin again after he was lost in Game 3 with a big-toe injury.
”It came down to today to keep us afloat, keep us alive,” Paul said. ”We’re done.”
In the most closely contested series of the first round – and the only to go seven games – the Clippers came up strangely flat with their season on the line. J.J. Redick didn’t hit his first 3-pointer until the game’s final 3 1/2 minutes, drawing the Clippers within eight.
”Late, when we did start scoring, we couldn’t get stops,” Paul said.
He couldn’t muster any of his fourth-quarter magic, either. Paul went scoreless with three assists in the period after tweaking an ankle in the third.
”We made it difficult for Chris Paul to get in the lane, get his little pullup jump shot,” Hayward said. ”Guys on the weak side were rotated, making them make the extra pass and make some other guys try to create for them.”
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In the fourth, the Jazz were well in command, ahead by 17 points and hardly feeling pressured by foul trouble for Rudy Gobert and Favors, who both fouled out. Gobert finished with one point in 14 minutes. Favors had 11 rebounds off the bench.
”I was struggling a lot this season with injuries and my teammates had to hold it down for me,” Favors said. ”I felt like I owed them, especially in this game.”
The first six games between the fourth-seeded Clippers and No. 5 Utah were decided by eight points or less with Los Angeles outscoring Utah 98.8 points to 98.0 points. The teams had identical 51-31 records in the regular season.
But this one was all Utah in the second half.
The Jazz opened the third on a 23-9 run, extending their lead to 69-48 – largest in the series. Boris Diaw had eight points, Hayward added six and Hill four as the Jazz had three three-point plays.
The Clippers got bogged down with a shot-clock turnover, a delay of game warning and Redick’s airball on a 3-point attempt while the home crowd went silent.
This time, the Jazz didn’t need the big-shot heroics of Joe Johnson or the presence of Gobert.
The Clippers, whose only lead was one point minutes into the game, shot 44 percent, and were outscored 56-46 in the paint and 12-9 on fast-break points.
”There’s no excuses,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. ”We lost.”
Jazz: They improved to 3-2 all-time in Game 7s. … Hayward made 43 of 45 free throws in the series.
Clippers: They fell to 3-4 all-time in Game 7s. … They dropped to 3-1 with Paul in first-round Game 7s, having beaten Memphis in 2012, Golden State in 2014 and San Antonio in 2015. … Beyonce and Jay Z sat courtside behind sunglasses.
WINNING ON THE ROAD
The Jazz won three road games in the series, gaining valuable experience away from the confines of their loud, boisterous home arena.
”It’s unusual,” coach Quin Snyder said. ”If we were going to be able to advance, in some ways it was fitting that it would be kind of through a difficult set of circumstances.”
FAREWELL TO THE TRUTH
Paul Pierce’s 19-year NBA career came to an end at the final buzzer. The 39-year-old forward had six points and three rebounds in 21 minutes for the Clippers. He averaged 11.1 minutes in the series.
MAKING UP FOR BLAKE
Crawford, Luc Mbah a Moute and Austin Rivers combined to score 31 points while making up for the loss of Griffin. They totaled 38 points in winning Game 6 on the road.
Rivers started his second straight after missing the series’ first four games while being out with a strained left hamstring.
In Boston, Isaiah Thomas scored 33 points and Al Horford nearly notched a triple-double as the Boston Celtics defeated the Washington Wizards 123-111 in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semi-finals.
Horford hit 21 points, notched 10 assists and nine rebounds, while Jae Crowder drained six three-pointers in his 24 points.
Bradley Beal top-scored for the Wizards with 27 points, while John Wall hit 20 points, 16 assists and eight turnovers.
Game 2 is on Tuesday.
Results from Sunday’s NBA playoff games.
Washington Wizards 111-123 Boston Celtics (Game 1, Boston lead series 1-0)
Utah Jazz 104-91 Los Angeles Clippers (Game 7, Jazz win series 4-3)