The job is far from done, but the LA Clippers made history on Friday.
They didn’t let their series against the Utah Jazz go to a Game 7 in Salt Lake City, as a career night from Terance Mann and an excellent supporting performance by Reggie Jackson carried the Clippers to a 131-119 win in Game 6. The win gives LA the series win and means they are headed to their first-ever Conference Finals series in franchise history.
The game itself was wild. The 1st quarter was essentially even. The Jazz pummeled the Clippers in the 2nd quarter. And then the Clippers dug out of an enormous hole in the 2nd half, completing the rally and overtaking Utah to create a banner night in this team’s history.
Ty Lue started an unchanged five for Game 6, with Mann in again in place of the injured Kawhi Leonard, alongside Paul George, Nicolas Batum, Marcus Morris Sr. and Jackson. Mike Conley Jr. made his series debut for the Jazz, apparently sufficiently recovered from a hamstring injury.
Mann got off to a hot start, hitting his first two shots, both 3-pointers, as the teams traded baskets to open the game. The teams stayed within a few points for most of the 1st quarter, but Utah opened up a slightly bigger lead to finish the opening stanza, going up by eight before LA reined them in. George hit three free throws in the dying seconds, and Utah led 33-31 after the 1st quarter.
After a start where the Jazz looked a little tight, they opened things up in the 2nd quarter and got out to an 18-point lead past the halfway mark of the quarter. Jordan Clarkson was stellar for Utah, scoring 17 points in a row for the Jazz at one point.
Ultimately, the Clippers totally lost their stroke in the 2nd quarter and the Jazz found theirs, with Utah going up by 22 points and silencing the crowd at Staples Center. It was a stunning reversal for the Clippers, who basically fell apart in about 10 minutes to head in the locker room at halftime needing to get their heads right if they wanted to come back.
The Jazz opened the 3rd quarter with Donovan Mitchell going for a heat check 3-pointer right out of the gate, as he shot from way downtown to show the Clippers that the hot hand was still there.
But the Clippers were more lively on defense to open the 2nd half, forcing several turnovers and getting some easy baskets to try and cut away at the lopsided deficit.
It took some time and a false dawn or two, but Mann continued to hit timely shots, and the Clippers got within 12 points, which seemed pretty unlikely a few minutes earlier. From there, they got down to single-digits with a few minutes left in the 3rd quarter.
On a hustle play, Patrick Beverley forced a steal, then George missed the layup but got the tip to get the ball out to Jackson, who hit a 3-pointer in the corner to make the deficit a mere two points with about 1:30 left in the 3rd.
The Jazz hit a couple late baskets, but Jackson had another timely 3, and the Clippers finished the 3rd quarter with the momentum on their side, down just 94-91 with 12 minutes to play.
Batum tied the game with a 3-pointer off a kickout from Jackson in the first minute of the 4th quarter. After Rudy Gobert hit one of two free throws at the other end, Jackson got the lead for the Clippers on the next possession with a layup.
From there, the teams traded baskets and the lead. George hit a corner 3 to put LA above 100, making it a 102-99 lead with about 9:30 left to go. Then, Jackson and Batum buried shots and the Clippers went ahead 107-100, hope of closing out the series really starting to emerge.
The Jazz certainly didn’t go away, and the Clippers had to play smart basketball down the stretch to keep the lead and bring home the win. Mann had an eye-popping 39 points to lead the Clippers, with Jackson notching 27 and George 28 on the night. But honestly, the starters and Beverley played the bulk of the minutes, and everyone made big plays in the win, and the Clippers came away deserved winners in the end.
So, on to Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, which will take place Sunday against the Phoenix Suns in Phoenix. The Suns have had some rest after sweeping the Denver Nuggets, and Chris Paul against the Clippers with a spot in the NBA Finals on the line? Oh yeah, bring it on.