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Three takeaways from the Clippers’ Game 6 win over Utah

Say hello to the conference finals.

2021 NBA Playoffs - Utah Jazz v LA Clippers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

For the first time in franchise history, the Clippers are headed to the conference finals. They’ll face Phoenix on Sunday in their attempt to keep their already monumental postseason going.

Here’s how the Clippers did the unthinkable.

Terance Mann filled in for Kawhi Leonard

Mann was a capable replacement for Leonard in Game 5, dropping 13 points and playing his part in the team’s switching defense. He was a steady cog in the machine, keeping the wheels turning for the Clippers as the other starters led the way.

But in Game 6, Mann became elimination-game Kawhi Leonard, and that’s an entirely different level. Prior to Friday, Mann’s season high was 23 points — he scored 20 in the third quarter alone as the Clippers erased a 22-point halftime deficit. He ended with 39 on 15-of-21 shooting from the field and 7-of-10 from 3-point range, a level of efficiency befitting the Klaw.

The Clippers went to Mann right from the beginning. He hit a corner three off a Paul George drive-and-kick for his first shot attempt, taking advantage of the oodles of space afforded by Rudy Gobert playing free safety. Gobert was admittedly hobbled — he couldn’t even get enough lift to win the opening tip — but the Jazz had used the same strategy of roaming of off Mann in Game 5. He couldn’t make them pay with his jumper then, but he did Friday.

Mann got the crowd roaring early, too, with a putback on a George miss to send the game to its first timeout with the Clippers up 12-10. Were it not for his 12 first-quarter points, this contest could have been even further out of hand when the Clippers mounted their second-half comeback.

And Mann was the catalyst of that effort.

The Jazz pushed the lead to 25 on the opening possession of the second half, but the Clippers got to work shortly afterwards. Mann hit a three in the corner to pull L.A. within 20. Then he ran the court and finished a lay-up in transition to cut the lead to 16. Utah made a run to go back up by 19, but Mann was undeterred, putting together a personal 8-0 run to cut the lead to seven as the Clippers ended the period down by only three.

It’s hard to overstate the electricity that came through the building on every Mann bucket. The roof almost came off when Mann had what seemed like an eternity to launch from the corner on the triple that put the Clippers up double digits, 116-106. Mann hardly played in the first two games of this series, and he was arguably the best player in closeout win.

According to Donovan Mitchell, it wasn’t even an argument.

“First off, I want to start this press conference off by saying salute to Terance Mann,” Mitchell said postgame. “I’ve played against Terance since, like, middle school. He’s always been a dog and a warrior. He played his ass off. He got inserted into the lineup and he’s been hooping ever since. And he’s good. He’s really good. And tonight he showed it on the biggest stage.”

Patrick Beverley sparked the defense

Ty Lue said Pat Beverley changed the series, and he certainly changed the momentum of the final game. Beverley said the conversation at halftime was exclusively about defense — the Clippers needed to get stops. After allowing 72 points in the first half, L.A. only surrendered 47 in the second.

The key was forcing turnovers. The Clippers forced 11 turnovers in the second half, leading to 21 points. Meanwhile, they only had four giveaways of their own, which led to two points. That 19-point margin was essentially the difference after intermission.

2021 NBA Playoffs - Utah Jazz v LA Clippers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

Beverley’s presence was once again key to helping slow Mitchell. Mitchell’s shooting percentage dropped by 15 percent with Beverley in the game, and he had fewer assists in the 14 minutes played without Beverley than in the 25 he played with the Clippers perimeter pest on the floor. Mitchell also turned the ball over twice against Beverley compared to a clean game against other defenders.

Without Mitchell able to break down the defense against Beverley, that put an undue burden on Mike Conley, playing his first game in over two weeks. Conley, notoriously a Clippers killer, just didn’t have it in him, and committed four turnovers. The Jazz made mistake after mistake, and Beverley was at the point of attack forcing the issue. He also added 11 points in the second half, finally breaking the seal on his jump-shooting woes earlier in the playoffs.

The Clippers overcame their demons

For much of this series, it seemed like the Clippers’ toughest enemy was the burden of their history. They missed makeable shots in Salt Lake City and made basic mistakes in transition, particularly down the stretch of Game 2, giving away two games that could have been wins to start the series.

Then, when the series appeared to be turning the tide after Game 4, Kawhi Leonard was ruled out for the rest of the second round. Then, when the Clippers had proven that they could beat the Jazz by taking Game 5 on the road, they dug themselves a 25-point hole on their home court, mostly because of an inability to execute their defensive principles against Jordan Clarkson.

But without their best player, and with a 0.8% chance of winning in the third quarter per ESPN’s win probability, facing the prospect of blowing their 9th straight opportunity to advance to the Western Conference Finals, the Clippers rallied.

Marcus Morris Sr. doesn’t have it? In comes Beverley. George struggles from the field? Mann filled the scoring load. Rajon Rondo isn’t effective as the lead ball handler? Reggie Jackson doles out 10 assists of his own. Down 25? The Clippers outscore the Jazz by 34 points in the second half.

This franchise, like it or not, has been associated with futility in its history. But not the 2020-21 Clippers. These Clippers get better with their backs against the wall. These Clippers put in the work and expect that preparation to pay off on the court. They believe in the ability of every man in their rotation to produce and play their role when the opportunity presents itself.

These Clippers are the toughest group that has ever suited up for this organization, and that’s why they’re still playing.

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