The Clippers came into Game 5 shorthanded, but not defeated. As Ty Lue said pregame, “All season long we have been having next man up mentality, we know it’s the playoffs, but we’re ready, the guys are geared up and we understand the task at hand.”
That mindset was readily clear to start the game. Paul George set the tone early, and Reggie Jackson brought the Clippers home in a stunning 119-111 win in Salt Lake City.
George had 37 points, 22 in the first half as the Clippers had to keep pace with Utah’s absolute assault on the nets. His production slowed as the game went on, but his buddy Big Government picked up where he left off in the fourth quarter.
Jackson had 10 points in the fourth, hitting multiple jumpers late in the clock, including a 3-pointer that extended the lead to six when the Jazz had gotten back within one possession, and a miraculous lofting floater over the long arms of Rudy Gobert to put the Clippers up eight. As a result, the Jazz never had the ball with a chance to tie for the rest of the game.
But the Clippers never would have been in that position without the play of George early. For the first time in 12 postseason contests, the Clippers scored first. They started the game up 10-3 as George relentlessly attacked, creating opportunities for himself and others. He facilitated out of the post and comfortably stepped into jumpers when Rudy Gobert was manning the paint, finding the most efficient looks for the Clippers.
George’s aggression continued throughout, and the Clippers needed that once Utah caught fire. Catching fire might even be putting it mildly. The Jazz hit 10 threes in the first quarter, six of them from Bojan Bogdanović, who didn’t miss until his seventh attempt. Were it not for L.A.’s active hands in the passing lanes, Utah could have run away with this game early.
But the Clippers forced 11 turnovers, becoming the first team this postseason to have 10 steals in a half, and that led to 17 points. That possession advantage allowed them to be within five heading into halftime.
L.A. then took control of the game in the third, outscoring Utah 32-18. They shut down the 3-point faucet, forcing Royce O’Neale to beat them from outside or else making the Jazz get into the paint. The Clippers were creating offense easily enough to willingly concede some twos, especially once Marcus Morris started bullying mismatches. Morris’ 25 points were second only to George, and 12 of them came into the pivotal third.
It’s hard to overstate what a monumental win this is for the Clippers. Yes, they are still one game away from reaching the franchise’s first conference finals, and they’ve been in this position before. But the Clippers were dealt a bad hand Wednesday, and instead of using that as an excuse, they powered through and proved to be the mentally stronger team. What a night.