The Los Angeles Clippers are living dangerously in these playoffs, falling 2-0 in each of their first two series. Yet here they regain control in no time, beating the Jazz 118-104 on Monday night to tie their second-round streak 2-2, just as they did against the Mavericks in the first round.
Game 5 is Wednesday night in Utah.
Looks like all the momentum swayed the Clippers’ path. Kawhi Leonard, who has arguably been the best player this playoffs, was fantastic on both sides, finishing with 31 points. And what about Paul George?
We’re going to have to put a stop to this PG roast. The man is playing really well, and he’s been going through most of these playoffs quietly, and he’s been doing so for most of his career. He caused a lot of the teasing with the self-proclaimed nickname and all the “it’s a bad shot” routine, but other than a few high-level stinks, there’s no way you don’t want this on your team. .
George finished with 31 points, nine rebounds and four assists. It was 4 for 10 beyond the arc. He attacks with force and shoots with confidence, and the awesomeness of that cannot be underestimated given the spotlight that is on him. We have the impression that all social networks are waiting for his failure, and he is aware of it. He must be. It would be so easy for him to hesitate. And yet he plays as if he knows nothing about it. When he was last substituted in the fourth quarter, he received a standing ovation. He deserved it. Good for him.
And so much the better for the Clippers, who have apparently chosen their championship formula. That’s not to say they’re going to win, but it’s what gives them their best shot: Leonard and George play like stars and the defense suffocates with switches, aggressive spins, and ball pressure.
Monday, the first half decided the match. The Clippers were convinced Donovan Mitchell was not going to beat them. They trapped, doubled, collapsed on his discs, and forced Utah shooters to strike shots. They did not do it. Utah took 60% of their first-half shots from beyond the arc, making just 33%. With his downhill energy cut off, Mitchell was also forced behind the line, taking 10 of his 14 first-half shots out of 3. He only managed three of those 10.
Mitchell and the Jazz improved their numbers to 3 points at the end of the game, but the damage was done early. The Clippers dictated the conditions. Mitchell has become a great 3 point shooter off the dribble, but he really kills you when he gets in the lane and the Jazz hits you with swing-swing streaks that end in a neat 3-point look.
The Clippers did everything to prevent that from happening, and they succeeded. Mitchell didn’t have much help scoring when he needed it in the first half. By the time Joe Ingles and Bojan Bogdanovic found their shots, the deficit was in the 1920s.
Meanwhile, the Clippers got the peripheral performance they needed. Marcus Morris, who was 5-for-5-to-3 in the first half, could be the biggest X factor remaining in this playoff. When it does 3s, the Clippers are a whole different team with the attention that needs to be given to Leonard and George.
In addition, a lot of love for Terance Mann is in order. Ty Lue kicked him off the rotation at times, and there’s a reason he’s been toasted for that decision on Twitter. Mann scored three points in 15 minutes on Monday, and those numbers do nothing to capture his impact as a defender and energy supplier. Here are the numbers to focus on:
So, let’s go, 2-2 with Game 5 on Thursday. There are no more secrets in this series. Each team showed their hand, presented their winning formula, and now we see who performs best with it all down the line. The Jazz have been the better team all season and have yet to enjoy their chances of coming home for Game 5 and potentially Game 7. They need to play faster before the Clippers can establish their defense. Mitchell must attack before the double arrives. The shooters must knock down the shots. I’d be interested if Rudy Gobert plays a bigger role as a roller in Game 5; it’s one way to get into the teeth of the defense when the Clippers are filling in the gaps.
But the Clippers have nothing to rediscover. They are the ones who are rolling, and they are on familiar ground. They’ve already flirted with death in the playoffs and come out on top, and they’re doing it again. And now that they’ve come back to life, it’s going to be hard to push them back.