Paul George is Playoff P, scores 37 to spark Clippers Game 5 win over Jazz

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Playoff P answered everyone’s questions.

NBA Twitter was poised to pounce on “Pandemic P” Paul George Wednesday night, as was the crowd in Utah. In a 2-2 series where Kawhi Leonard was (and will remain) out with a knee sprain, the burden fell on George to lead the Clippers, and a lot of fans were expecting more shots off the side of the backboard.

Instead, they watched a 37-point, 16 rebound, five assist masterpiece — George drove the lane but didn’t force shots or passes, didn’t settle for pull-ups, and when the Jazz made their fourth quarter push to get back in the game he answered the call with big buckets.

As they did in the first round against Dallas, the Clippers showed resiliency — a word not often associated with this franchise through its history, but fitting this postseason.

Playoff P pushed the resilient Clippers to a 119-111 win in Utah to take a 3-2 series lead. Now the Clippers head home on Friday night for Game 6 and the chance to close out the series and advance to the franchise’s first-ever conference finals.

“It was no secret. I knew I had to be big tonight and got to be big going forward,” George said after the game.

George reminded everyone he had been there before as the franchise cornerstone of the Pacers — and Wednesday night he looked like the George who went toe-to-toe with LeBron James in that era.

“I’ve been in Indiana where I had to lead a franchise…” George said. “It was just that mindset being back in Indy having to set the tone and come out and lead a ballclub. That’s really the mindset I came out with. It was nothing that I had to prove. It was nothing that I had to be surprised about myself. I just dug into a place that I’ve been already in my career, and again, it just came down to trust.”

Utah — a franchise that also blew a 3-1 series lead against Denver last playoffs — now has to show some resiliency of its own on the road. And it may again have to do that without All-Star point guard Mike Conley, who has missed every game this series and told reporters Wednesday afternoon he had a setback with his hamstring last Friday, and he needs more time to fully recover.

“The series is not over,” Donovan Mitchell said “We got a lot of life left to give and a lot of juice to give, and we just got to go out there and play with a level of desperation that we have never played with before, otherwise we’ll be home.”

The Jazz came out of the locker room knocking down everything — Bojan Bogdanovic started the game 6-of-6 from 3, and the Jazz as a team shot 10-of-15 from 3 in the first quarter on its way to putting up 37 points. It was brilliant shotmaking, and it cascaded across the team as every shot seemed to go in — Jordan Clarkson couldn’t miss — it was contagious, and the Jazz put up 65 first-half points with an offensive rating above 150.

“They came out hot,” George said. “Only thing we were thinking, that they can’t sustain it. At one point they shot 30 or 37 of their attempts or something like that. So most of their shots were threes. We just knew we had to weather it. At some point, hopefully, we could cool them down.”

Yet Utah only led by five at the half because the defense that earned this team the No. 1 seed didn’t show up until in the first three quarters — Rudy Gobert said they didn’t start the game playing defense with the right level of desperation. Their transition defense, in particular was unimpressive, and the Clippers kept pace through the first half because of it.

Then in the third quarter, the Clippers took the lead, with Marcus Morris Sr. scoring 12 in the frame and the Clippers winning the quarter 32-18. Los Angeles got its lead up to double digits but never pulled away from the Jazz.

In the fourth, Mitchell tried to will Utah back into the lead, scoring 11 points in the quarter but on 3-of-10 shooting as it looked like his sore right ankle slowed him down. Utah as a team shot 7-of-21 in the fourth.

George answered the bell for the Clippers, but so did Reggie Jackson who had a dozen in the final frame. Jackson finished with 22 points, Morris 25 for the Clippers.

Mitchell finished with 21 points on 6-of-19 shooting. Bogdanovic led the Jazz with 32.

Now the Clippers are within a win of advancing to the conference finals and the question is, can they do this again without Leonard?