The LA Clippers’ hopes of making the Western Conference Finals looked like they were dashed when they lost Kawhi Leonard to a knee injury after Game 4.
Leonard, who had been their best player in the postseason, was averaging 30.4 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 4.4 APG and 2.1 SPG on only 2.2 TPG. He had some signature performances as well, including a Game 6 against Dallas where he simply refused to allow the season to end and poured in 45 points to force the Game 7 in LA.
The loss of one of their superstars did not break the Clippers’ spirit. Instead, Paul George put on a show in Game 5 against Utah with 37 points, 16 rebounds, 5 assists, a steal and a block to give them the 3-2 advantage. He followed that up with 28 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals in Game 6.
He got plenty of help along the way, as Reggie Jackson averaged 24.5 points over the last two games. In Game 5, Marcus Morris Sr. also stepped up, with a big 25 points.
However, in Game 6, the limelight belonged to Terance Mann, a second-year player who had the best game of his young career in one of the most important games in Clippers history. He was simply unstoppable, scoring 39 points on 15 of 21 shooting (7 of 10 from three). It was an incredible performance from someone who averaged 7.0 PPG through the regular season.
Nicolas Batum and Patrick Beverley also combined for 28 points to help the Clippers’ cause. They became the second team in the span of a few days to complete one of the biggest comebacks in postseason history. The Hawks finished a 26-point comeback the other day, which put them tied in fourth place. The Clippers are now tied with two other teams for fifth place with their 25-point swing.
Game 6 was a fascinating watch, and a true tale of two halves. After being manhandled and allowing the Utah Jazz to finish the first half with a 72-50 lead, the Clippers again used the third quarter to begin the swing that then led to a reverse blowout victory. As Donovan Mitchell sat to rest and get treatment in the third quarter, the Clippers at one point went on a 17-0 run to build momentum that lasted for the rest of the game.
LA scored 81 points in the second half, while the Jazz only scored 47 on the way to the 131-119 final score.
George has deservedly gotten flak for his struggles in the playoffs, but man, he really showed us something over the last two games. The Clippers proved their strength of will to basketball fans around the world by preventing a Game 7 from even happening.
Now, they’re at least going to have a bit of good luck on their side. The matchup with the Phoenix Suns is a tough one, but Chris Paul’s availability for at least the early games of the series is still in doubt. If LA continue to play like they did in the last two games, Phoenix are going to have trouble playing without their floor general.
Compounding the Suns’ problems is the fact that George seems to enjoy showing out against them. In three regular season matchups, the Clippers had a 2-1 record and their one loss came late in the season when Lenard sat. All three of those games featured Chris Paul, DeAndre Ayton and Devin Booker.
George played in all three games as well and averaged 32.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 3.7 APG and 2.3 SPG. They’ll continue to him to provide consistent production to make up for Leonard’s absence. They question’s going to be which of his teammates will step up consistently. A good bet is probably Jackson, whose confidence continues to grow with each game. After tonight, we’ve got to assume that Mann will get his looks as well.
For now, let’s just give the Clippers their due. They earned their WCF berth. I’m sure that NBA execs are also happy that at least one LA team managed to make it through two rounds.
For now, let’s just give the Clippers their due. They earned those two wins.