In Paul George’s return to the lineup, after a three month hiatus due to a UCL tear, the Clippers come back from a 25 point deficit to snap a five game losing streak and beat the Utah Jazz.
The game tonight started like many this season, with the Clippers shooting woes digging them into an early deficit. There is just one crucial difference, however, the presence of the Clippers’ best player to suit up this season, Paul George.
Utah, led by Rudy Gobert, utilized a very active and aggressive defense, which forced tough shots for the Clippers and undeniably contributed to a 32-14 Jazz lead, through the first quarter.
Mike Conley also contributed 12 points in the first half, off 4-for-6 shooting from 3 (including on half-court heave to end the first quarter). His 19 points this game was joined by Donovan Mitchell’s 33 points and six assists, on 57% shooting from the field.
George didn’t score his first points until the second quarter, but we can chalk that up to rust after missing the last 43 games. And it seemed that that first quarter was all he needed. His eight points in the second helped spark a Clippers offense that, without him, has looked stagnant this season. After scoring just 14 points in the first quarter, Los Angeles scored 34 in the second.
The play of George was undoubtedly the brightest part of this game. ‘Aggression’ was the name of the game, for George, tonight. After a more passive first quarter, George finished the game with 34 and five steals in 31 minutes (31!), including a 20 point third quarter, tonight. Being able to step into the game, off a significant injury, and not miss a beat, is testament to George’s relentless and determined work ethic during his rehab.
With 3:13 left in the second quarter, a Reggie Jackson turnaround floater cut the deficit to single digits. The Jazz then quickly responded with an 8-point run of their own. That trend continued through the rest of the game. Even after the Clippers took the lid off the basket, they were unable to stop the Jazz from scoring themselves. An otherwise elite defense, this latest losing streak has showcased anything but that. But, in true Clippers fashion, there was no dissuading them.
After chipping away at the deficit all game, the Clippers cut it to just one, in the final four minutes of the game. And with a Isaiah Hartenstein floater, on the very next play the Clippers took the lead for the first time all night. After another few back and forth buckets, the Clippers, led by the return of George, out-willed, out played, and out-lasted the Jazz tonight.
If Norman Powell and Kawhi Leonard plan on returning during the regular season, they only have six games left to do so. Signs point towards hopeful results, but hope, as Clippers fans are well aware, is a dangerous concept to play with.
Either way, the more vocal of their stars is back. And oh boy does he look good. The Clippers look to keep building towards the playoffs, Thursday, against the Bulls.