Utah Jazz forward Trey Lyles (41) high-fives forward Joe Ingles (2) after their win over the Washington Wizards at the Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 31, 2017.
LOS ANGELES — As the Jazz and the Los Angeles Clippers shift their playoff series to Salt Lake City, the visitors will face a four-word obstacle of concrete, steel and glass that could play as pivotal a role as any flesh-and-blood competitor.
Vivint Smart Home Arena is a nest for 19,991 passionate fans who support their Jazz while serving as a formidable human firewall for opposing teams.
Clippers guard Austin Rivers, son of head coach Doc Rivers, believes the arena provides “probably one of the best home-court advantages in the league,” he said.
“They sit right on top of you, especially behind the basket,” the younger Rivers said about the fans. “It’s a very rowdy crowd but a great crowd.”
Even rookie Brice Johnson, the Clippers’ first-round draft choice out of North Carolina, knows about the Vivint’s reputation.
“I’ve heard it’s pretty crazy there,” said Johnson, who spent much of the season playing for the Salt Lake City Stars of the NBA’s Developmental League.
“It’s the only professional team they really have in Salt Lake City,” Johnson said in reference to the Jazz, “so I know they’re excited and they want to come out and show it.”
Chris Paul described how the atmosphere differs from other NBA arenas.
“They’ve got true homers there,” Paul said. “Usually when we travel, we might see a few fans. But everybody there is for Utah. You’re very rarely going to see a Clippers jersey in there.
“It’s a cool environment. They support their players and the players feed off that energy.”
That energetic intensity offers enrichment as well as challenge.
“It makes it harder to play,” Rivers said, “but more fun, at the same time.”
For the Clippers, succeeding in Salt Lake City means converting the fans’ dynamism into fuel for their own power.
“It definitely gives the home team more energy,” Rivers said. “But the good road teams are able to use that as energy, too. That’s what we have to do.”