Not even the most out there of Hollywood scriptwriters could’ve scribed this.
The Los Angeles Clippers are heading to the their first-ever conference final after a 131-119 Game 6 victory over the league-best Utah Jazz on Friday night, and they did so by erasing a 25-point Jazz lead, playing without Kawhi Leonard and getting a career-high 39 points from role player Terance Mann and a 27-point outburst from Reggie Jackson.
In a post-season that’s been full of stunning comebacks and collapses, Friday’s Game 6 between the Clippers and Jazz is probably taking the cake.
Yes, Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley weren’t at full strength, something made plainly clear for Conley as he finished Friday’s contest with five points on 1-of-8 shooting. But to blow a lead of that size in an elimination game when you boasted the best record in the NBA during the regular season – plus Mitchell still went off for 39 points, nine rebounds and nine assists – is just plain embarrassing.
For the Clippers, Friday’s win represented, perhaps, a change in perception around not just some of the team’s players but the franchise as a whole, from one that chokes in important moments to one that might be able to fulfill its potential at long last.
Here’s a little bit more on that, plus a couple more takeaways from what was a wild six-game series between the Jazz and Clippers.
Playoff P’s redemption
Though the unlikely hero Mann proved to be the headline-grabber after Game 6 with his spectacular 39-point eruption, it would be prudent not to forget about Paul George, who had a remarkable game himself Friday night. He scored 28 points to go along with nine rebounds and seven assists on 10-of-24 shooting and was a game-high plus-19 in nearly 46 minutes played.
That’s a performance worthy of the superstar status George carries and comes on the heels of the 37-point, 16-rebound, five-assist line he put up in Game 5 to put the Clippers into position to take Game 6 on Friday.
Both of these monster nights from George came without Leonard in the lineup and should serve as a good reminder about how good a player he actually is, despite what detractors say after his poor showing in the post-season last year while in the bubble.
“Pandemic P” is no more, and the self-proclaimed “Playoff P” certainly appears to be here.
Gobert exposed by Mann, Clippers
The Jazz will probably be thinking about this series for a long time.
Utah held a 2-0 series lead, then blew it mostly thanks to the heroics of Leonard for the Clippers. After that, however, the Jazz were gifted with news that Leonard was dealing with a knee injury, something that forced him out for what ended up being the remainder of the playoff series. Yet, they still couldn’t get job done, going down in embarrassing fashion to a meteoric game from Mann, who inadvertently may have exposed the Jazz’s key weaknesses.
Mann hit five corner triples in Friday’s game, a number that significantly contributed to the 13 corner threes the Clippers as a team made.
That’s a huge number, but given how the Clippers made their comeback, it’s no surprise that they managed to rack up that many.
The Clippers played a five-out, small-ball lineup to completely neutralize three-time defensive player of the year Rudy Gobert’s impact on the defensive end of the floor, as he appeared to be reticent to come out to the perimeter and close out on shooters.
Mann proved to be the Clipper who benefitted the most from this as he seemingly took wide-open corner three after wide-open corner three all during the second half when Los Angeles staged its comeback.
Gobert just might be the best rim protector in the world but that’s a moot point when his assignment isn’t heading into the paint to challenge him. The French centre played 42 minutes, didn’t record a block and was a game-worst minus-24 as the Clippers appeared to find the kryptonite to the Superman-like impact he normally brings on the defensive end.
So rattled was Gobert in Game 6 that even when Clippers did challenge him at the rim, he looked helpless. Mann’s hot shooting – and perhaps the poster dunks he had over Gobert in both Games 5 and 6 – looked to have broken Gobert, and the Clippers feasted on it.
Leonard’s status looms large for the conference final
Up next for the Clippers will be a date with the Phoenix Suns with a chance at the NBA Finals on the line.
The Suns, of course, are dealing with their own problems with All-NBA guard Chris Paul stuck in health and safety protocols, but for the Clippers, their more pressing and immediate concern is the health status of their own All-NBA man Leonard.
Leonard missed Los Angeles’ last two games and is officially listed as “out indefinitely.” A report earlier stated the Clippers fear that Leonard may have suffered an ACL injury to his right knee, but that hasn’t been confirmed yet.
As the Clippers are now, they can beat Phoenix without Leonard, but given the way Devin Booker and the Suns as a whole have been playing, that would be a tall order.
Obviously having Leonard back in the lineup would help the Clippers’ chances against Phoenix, and his status will be the most important thing to monitor in the days leading up to the start of the Western Conference Finals.