Clippers avoid going back to ‘crazy place’ in Utah, advance to first Western Conference Finals in franchise history
Second-year player Terance Mann erupts for a career-high 39 points as Los Angeles overcomes a 25-point third-quarter deficit and sends the Jazz packing with 4-2 series win
Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals will go down in Los Angeles Clippers lore as the Terance Mann Game, or the time one of the NBA’s most hapless franchises finally broke through and made it past the second round of the playoffs.
“You felt the monkey off the Clippers’ backs in terms of getting out of the second round,” Los Angeles star Paul George said after the home team overcame a 25-point deficit in the third quarter and eliminated the Utah Jazz 131-119 at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
For the Jazz, it will live on as one of the most embarrassing collapses in franchise history, in terms of the game and the overall series.
“That’s a good team we just (eliminated),” George said.
Trailing 2-0 in the series, Los Angeles won four straight games — the last two without superstar Kawhi Leonard — to move on to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in the 50-year history of the franchise.
“It’s great to see,” said Mann. “I am glad to be a part of it, getting (owner Steve Ballmer) to the next level.”
Mann, a second-year player from Florida State who started in Leonard’s place for the second-straight game, was simply phenomenal.
Having scored 13 points in the Clips’ Game 5 win in Salt Lake City on Wednesday night, he was seven better Friday. Mann scored 20 of his 39 points in the third quarter when L.A. outscored Utah 41-22 to take control of the game.
He said he wasn’t surprised.
“Yeah, I mean, I trust in my work, and when I do that, I am not surprised that any of this happens.”
Not only did Mann, who scored 12 points total in the first four games of the series, make 15 of 21 shots, he hampered hobbling Jazz star Donovan Mitchell defensively.
“If we lose tonight, we go back to that crazy place in Utah.” — Los Angeles Clippers center Nicolas Batum.
Mitchell also scored 39 points, but on 12 of 27 shooting. And he committed three turnovers.
When Mitchell hit a 3-pointer to open the second half and give Utah a 75-50 lead, Mann smiled and thought to himself, “man, he don’t want to go home.”
But the Clippers didn’t want to go back to Salt Lake City for a Game 7 at Vivint Arena, and that thought fueled their comeback, said center Nicolas Batum.
“If we lose tonight, we go back to that crazy place in Utah,” said Batum, who had 16 points and seven rebounds on 6 of 9 shooting. “And we found a way.”
Batum’s ability to draw Jazz center Rudy Gobert away from the basket turned Utah’s seasonlong strength into a weakness and enabled Clippers such as Mann, Reggie Jackson (27 points) and George (28 points) to repeatedly get open shots at the rim.
“The whole night was special,” George said.
It wasn’t for the Jazz, the No. 1 seed in the West and owners of the best regular-season record in the NBA.
Los Angeles players credited coach Tyronn Lue for making the proper adjustments, such as the aforementioned “small ball” strategy, to turn the series around after Utah led 2-0.
“T-Lue, adjustments after adjustments, man,” George said. “You gotta give most of the credit to him. … The second half tonight, you really saw a team that trusted each other.”
Los Angeles went on a 17-0 run in the third quarter, finally took its first lead since early in the first quarter with a Jackson layup with 10:35 remaining in the fourth quarter, and rolled from there.
In the end, Lue took his players out one by one so they could receive standing ovations from the near-capacity crowd.
At halftime, when the Clippers trailed 72-50 and after Utah had made 12 of 19 3-point attempts and Jordan Clarkson had gone off for 21 points in the second quarter alone, Lue “made us believe we could still win that game,” Batum said. “He always finds a way to talk to us so we don’t panic.”
Instead, it was the Jazz who panicked.
After Mitchell’s 3-pointer gave Utah the 25-point lead, ESPN had the Jazz’s winning percentage chances at 98.2%.
“Man, it feels great,” said George, the star of Game 5 who played a complementary role Friday to Mann’s big night. “They (wrote) us off when Kawhi went down. We had to step up. We got to carry on. He carried us up to this point. I look forward to carry us even farther.”
And into uncharted waters for a franchise that waited a half-century to get this far.