LOS ANGELES — Resiliency. Clippers.
Historically these words do not belong together. Not in the Danny Manning era. Not in the Elton Brand and Corey Maggette era. Not in the Lob City era when Chris Paul and Blake Griffin had some of the best regular-season teams in the league but choked away their own 3-1 series lead. Certainly not last year, when the Clippers blew a 3-1 series lead to the Nuggets in maybe the most epic meltdown in the franchise’s long history of epic meltdowns. None of those teams reached the Western Conference Finals.
This year? Mann oh Mann, these Clippers have resiliency to spare.
And they had Terance Mann, the second-year, second-round draft pick who came out of nowhere these playoffs and went off for a career-high 39 in a close-out game — and he hit his biggest shots in the biggest of moments.
"TERANCE MANN IS UNSTOPPABLE!"
39 FOR MANN.
— NBA (@NBA) June 19, 2021
Without Kawhi Leonard, and down as many as 25 to the No. 1 team in the NBA in the third quarter, the Clippers showed that resiliency with a 17-0 run that morphed into a 40-12 run. A run aided by an uncharacteristic meltdown by the traditionally steady Jazz.
The Clippers had a full-capacity, rollicking Staples Center on its feet the entire second half, and with the momentum behind them nothing seemed to go wrong — Patrick Beverley was 3-of-4 from three in this game. It was a cathartic moment for Clippers fans who had been on the wrong end of too many games like this — not that there are games like this, it was the largest series-clinching comeback in 25 years.
The Clippers stormed back to beat the Jazz 131-119, winning the series 4-2 and advancing to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in the franchise’s 50 year history.
Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals is Sunday in Phoenix.
Word of advice to the Suns: Don’t let up if you get up 2-0 in the series, these resilient Clippers are 8-1 this postseason after going down 0-2. Clippers came back in the first round to knock off Luka Doncic and the Mavericks in 7, then finished off the Jazz in six.
“Get the W. That’s all that matters. Whether it’s pretty or ugly, we will take that,” Paul George said of the team’s focus in these comebacks. “Playoffs are about fighting, and we have shown time after time we would do that.”
The Jazz showed a lot of fight early, playing like a team with its back against the wall. Donovan Mitchell was attacking the rim, the Jazz moved the ball, and the threes were falling. Utah pulled away in the second quarter, winning it 39-19 behind a 21-point quarter from Jordan Clarkson. Mike Conley was back, and while he was a shadow of his All-Star self (1-of-8 shooting), he did play some solid defense at points, and he opened things up a little for Mitchell and Clarkson.
Utah led by 22 at the half, 72-50, and on the first play of the second half Donovan Mitchell drilled a three from the logo over a Clippers double-team.
He's up to 6 threes in G6 on ESPN 🎯 pic.twitter.com/hIRMAgeexX
— NBA (@NBA) June 19, 2021
“He hit that I thought ‘Man, he don’t wanna go home,'” Mann said after the game.
Past Clippers teams would have rolled over and everyone would be talking about the upcoming Game 7. Tyronn Lue’s Clippers are different — and the players, to a man, after Friday’s win credited Lue for his adjustments and mentality.
These Clippers are resilient — and they had Mann, who went off for 20 in the third. The Clippers’ ball handlers, Paul George and Reggie Jackson, starting playing downhill, and it opened everything up.
“In the first half, we didn’t touch the paint and we took bad shots,” Tyronn Lue said. “I told them, if we get in the paint, we know Rudy’s coming, and we can move the ball and get any shot we want.”
Los Angeles got seven shots at the rim in the third quarter, and when Gobert did start to come over it led to corner threes, and the suddenly hot Clippers hit 6-of-8 of those in the third.
Utah aided the Clipper’s comeback by falling apart. Jazz defenders couldn’t stay in front of their man, the defensive rotations were slow, they couldn’t hit a shot (8-of-21 in the third), and that led to the Clippers running on a porous Jazz transition defense.
Everything went right for the Clippers and wrong for the Jazz. Once Los Angeles had the momentum and a boisterous crowd behind them, the game was over.
In addition to Mann’s 39 — which included 7-of-10 from 3 — George had 28, and Reggie Jackson had 27 on 10-of-16 shooting.
Mitchell, clearly hobbling at the end on a hurting ankle, still had 39 points, plus nine rebounds and nine assists in a gutty performance. Clarkson and Royce O’Neal each had 21.
The Jazz head into an offseason that will lead to some soul searching. Clearly, the injuries to Conley and Mitchell impacted the series. Still, the team may need to reconsider a defensive system where Rudy Gobert is left to clean up the mess of mediocre perimeter defenders who can’t stay in front of their man — that’s fine in the regular season, but there comes a point in the playoffs where that’s not good enough anymore.
Meanwhile, the Clippers head into the next round. For the first time.