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Paul George, Terance Mann, and the Los Angeles Clippers learned how to thrive in the face of adversity.
When they dropped 25 points early in the third quarter in the sixth game of their Western Conference semifinal series against Utah Jazz, that was nothing new.
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Instead of getting excited, the Clippers rallied, celebrated a team’s biggest comeback win in a streak win over the past 25 seasons, and moved into a conference finale for the first time in the franchise’s 51-year history.
Mann scored 25 of his career top 39 points in the second half when the Clippers celebrated a 131-119 win to eliminate Jazz.
The Clippers are the first team in NBA history to recover from two 0-2 series deficits in the same postseason. This time they had to do without all-star striker Kawhi Leonard, who had been sidelined in the last two games due to a sprained right knee.
“They were starving, starving for success. They had a lot of good teams and only a lot of bad breaks. We know when Kawhi went down and we probably thought the same thing over and over again,” said coach Tyronn Lue. “Our team, I’m just telling you they just don’t give up. It’s a total team effort and we’re all trying to win and our team is ready to do anything to win.”
The fourth-placed Clippers will meet the second-placed Phoenix in the final of the Western Conference. Game 1 is Sunday in Phoenix. Los Angeles won two of the three regular season games.
The final win was viewed by 17,105 at the Staples Center and marked the first time the Clippers had played in front of a full house in 15 months after California eased COVID-19 safety restrictions on Tuesday.
“You feel like you have your back on the Clippers when you get out of the second round,” said George, who had 28 points. “It was just a special night. You know, you felt it, the cheering, the excitement.
“The playoffs are about courage. It’s about fighting. It’s about whatever it takes and I think we’ve proven that over and over again.”
Mann – who had 25 points in the first five games of the series – helped bring the Clippers back with 20 points in the third quarter. Utah had a 94-91 lead in the final 12 minutes, but Jackson gave the Clippers their first lead since the beginning of the second quarter when his layup made 96-95 and 10:36 remaining.
Mann was 15 of 21 out of the field and only became the third player in franchise history to score at least seven 3s in a postseason game.
“You’ve seen a full game by a sophomore,” said George of Mann. “I mean, you saw him stretch the floor. You saw it ricochet, make its way to the basket. You saw so many flashes of so many different things. He made it in the most important part of the game. “
The Clippers were 107-106 ahead with eight minutes remaining before taking control with nine points in a row, including five from man. The jazz would come closest after that was six.
Donovan Mitchell led the top seed Utah with 39 points. It is the second time in franchise history that the Jazz have a 25-point lead in a postseason game.
Royce O’Neale added 21 for jazz. They had the NBA’s best record of the regular season but lost four in a row for the first time any year.
“We just spun the ball a lot. We didn’t play defensively. We didn’t come back and let their boys do what they wanted,” said Mitchell, who had seven playoff games with 30 points or more.
Mitchell opened the second half with a 33-foot, step back 3-pointer to give the Jazz a 75-50 lead by 24 seconds in the third quarter. It was 88-67 with 6:37 remaining as LA struggled back by running a 21-2 run to get into a basket, with 1:42 remaining with 10 points from Mann and Jackson scoring nine.
“When Mitchell hit that 3-pointer, I thought we didn’t want to go home,” said Mann. “I was very busy. You left me open and I got my shots. The offense will take care of itself if you are confident in your game.”
A dunk from O’Neale and Mitchell’s pair of free throws brought Utah’s lead back to six, but Jackson’s 3-pointers with 11.1 seconds left cut the lead in half on the fourth quarter.
There were 12 changes in leadership in the first half. Rajon Rondo’s layup at 9:17 in the second quarter gave LA a 41:40 lead before Utah beat the Clippers 33:10 for the remainder of the half to take a 72:50 lead at break.
The Jazz went on a 21-2 run that included 17 straight points from Jordan Clarkson, including a pair of 3-pointers.
“It’s hard, especially when we took such a lead in the second half that the game ended like this and the season ended like this,” said Utah coach Quin Snyder. “I’m incredibly proud of this team. When we finish a game like this, it’s hard to reflect what I think were high-profile playoffs, what Donovan did, a lot of the individual things our boys did.”
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IN THE SECOND HALF
The Clippers were 30 out of 42 out of the field in the third and fourth quarters, including 14 out of 19 from beyond when they beat Jazz 81-47. Reggie Jackson scored 22 of his 27 points in the second half.
Utah was 12 out of 19 with 3 points in the first half but 9 out of 25 in the second.
Utah Guardian Mike Conley was back on the line-up after missing five games with a pulled muscle in his right thigh. He played 26 minutes and had five points and three assists.
“I didn’t know if it would be the last game or not. So I had to try to move as well as I could. Of course I couldn’t move that well,” he said.
Jazz: Clarkson had all 21 points in the second quarter. … … Mitchell scored 16 points in the first quarter. It’s the fourth time this postseason he’s had 12 or more in the first 12 minutes.
Clippers: As of 1997, Mann has been the only player in franchise history to score 20 or more points in a single quarter in a post-season game. … Jackson had a season high of 10 assists