The Los Angeles Clippers, led by Terance Mann, defeated the Utah Jazz in LA Friday night, 131-119, setting up a battle with the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Finals.
The Clippers won their second consecutive game without Kawhi Leonard, who hurt his knee in Game Four at home. LA trailed by as many as 25 points in the second half, but continued this year’s crazy playoff trend of huge comebacks and sank the NBA’s best regular season.
Terance Mann Career High
Reggie Jackson (27 points, 10 assists) and Paul George (28 points, nine rebounds, seven assists) took responsibility for closing the deal down the stretch, but as a whole, this game belongs to second-year guard Terance Mann. A four-year player at Florida State, Mann scored a post-high school career-high 39 points (7-10 3PT), a large chunk of which came during a 17-0 third-quarter run that cut the Utah lead to two points. Mann’s contributions were seemingly out of nowhere, having only scored 25 total points in the five games prior and only started 10 regular-season games; coach Ty Lue pushed the right button and gave Mann the start in Game Six, which he repaid fully.
Ty Lue put on a bit of a masterclass against Utah this series, responding to the 25-point deficit, winning a game in which the Jazz made 17 first-half threes, altering his rotation to accommodate Mann and Luke Kennard, deploying a zone defense to stop Utah’s runs, playing without usual starter Serge Ibaka, and now winning back-to-back games without Kawhi Leonard. Owner Steve Ballmer took a risk in the offseason by firing champion coach Doc Rivers and promoting Lue from assistant to Head Coach, though this decision has now been vindicated— the Clippers will now appear in the conference finals for the first time in the 50-year history of their franchise.
Donovan Mitchell led the Jazz’s losing effort with 39 points, nine rebounds, nine assists and nine made threes; Jordan Clarkson scored 21 points in the second quarter but contributed nothing in the other three, joining Royce O’Neale with 21 in the final box score.
The Jazz shot the ball very well in the game (49.4% FG, 47.7% 3PT), but they simply could not match the Clippers’ incredible efficiency (56.5% FG, 51.3% 3PT).
Despite their regular-season acclaim, Utah has some serious soul-searching to do in the offseason: Rudy Gobert was named the Defensive Player of the Year for the third time in his career but could not stop the Clipper guards from repeatedly victimizing him in isolation situations out of the pick and roll, ultimately allowing members of LA’s roster to shoot 12-15 when he was the primary defender. Gobert’s lack of lateral speed and unsteady feet outside of the painted area made him an easy target for Jackson, Mann, and George.
LA, on the other hand, will be playing with house money heading into the conference finals. They will be viewed as underdogs without Leonard regardless of Chris Paul’s COVID situation, which plays to their strengths much more than that of a favorite. Paul George in particular has proven that he performs best as the hunter, dating back to his battles in the Eastern Conference Playoffs with the LeBron James-Dwyane Wade-Chris Bosh-led Miami Heat, though he was electric all series long against Utah.
“Playoff P” has received his fair share of criticism in the past for lackluster performances and disappearing acts in the postseason, but after posting a line of 29 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 4.8 APG, and 42% 3PT against the top-ranked team in the NBA, these misfires are quickly becoming a distant memory.
Terance Mann probably will not score 39 points again against the Suns, but he represents the new identity of a Clippers team that has transformed from feeble-minded and weak to that of a resilient contender, all in the span of a few weeks.
LA has finally upheld the expectations that the NBA world had when their two stars first arrived on the West Coast— next week’s tangle with Phoenix will decide if they reach the ultimate stage or not.
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Grant Mitchell is a sportswriter and multimedia contributor for the Sports 2.0 Network dealing with basketball, football, soccer, and other major sports: you can connect with him on Twitter @milemitchell to stay up to date with the latest sports news and to engage personally with him.