Even though his team trailed by five points at halftime and his best player was back in Los Angeles with a reportedly sprained knee, Tyronn Lue liked where his Clippers team was at Wednesday night in Salt Lake City.

The Jazz’s offensive numbers in the first quarter, and well into the second, were flat-out staggering.

They were 15 for 22 from 3-point range midway through the second and flirting with NBA records for makes in a half. They seemingly couldn’t miss.

Bojan Bogdanovic was 7 of 8 from deep, and every time he hoisted a shot the sellout crowd at Vivint Arena expected it to find the bottom of the net.

“I think the key to the whole game was, coming in at halftime, they had made 17 threes and we were only down five. Being down only five, I felt good about it.” — Los Angeles Clippers coach Tyronn Lue

Then everything dried up. Fast as that.

Credit the Clippers for making the defensive adjustments necessary to reverse it all.

Playing without superstar forward Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles controlled Game 5 from the final few minutes of the first half to the end defensively, and took a 119-111 win to grab a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference semifinals.

“I think the key to the whole game was, coming in at halftime, they had made 17 threes and we were only down five,” Lue said. “Being down only five, I felt good about it. … We knew we had to clean up some things, like get into Bogdanovic, make him put the ball on the ground, and the same with (Jordan) Clarkson, make him drive the ball inside the 3-point line.”

Mission accomplished.

The Jazz would eventually miss 16 straight 3-point attempts in the second half, a complete turnaround from the first 24 minutes, and the Clippers were the more poised team down the stretch to win their third straight game in the series.

“We found a way to win with Kawhi going down,” Lue said. “Other guys stepped up. We play the right way, play together, and we have that toughness about us. We are going to be fine.”

After Donovan Mitchell’s 3-point play cut a 10-point Clippers lead to three, and with the Vivint crowd at full throat, a sequence occurred that pretty much summed up Game 5: L.A.’s Reggie Jackson hit a 3-pointer with 5:25 left, and Utah’s Royce O’Neale had a similar look at the other end.


Jackson added another bucket to push the advantage to eight, and Utah would get no closer than four the rest of the way in suffering one of the most devastating defeats of the season, if not the decade.

Florida State product Terance Mann started in Leonard’s place and was pretty much a non-factor in the first half, but delivered the dagger, dunking over three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert with just under three minutes remaining. 

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“I just wanted to see what I could do against him,” Mann said.

Mann was just one of several Clippers who stepped up to fill the void left by Leonard, who was averaging 30.4 points in the series. Mann finished with 13 and played some sticky defense on Mitchell, who was clearly bothered by a gimpy ankle and had just 21 points on 6 of 19 shooting.

Marcus Morris and Reggie Jackson also delivered in the clutch for the Clips, Morris scoring 25 points on 10 of 16 shooting and Jackson chipping in 20.

Paul George, booed every time he touched the ball, finally played like an all-star in Salt Lake City. The man who once called himself “Playoff P” lived up to that moniker, even as Jazz fans chanted for push-off calls time and again.

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“Sure,” George said, sheepishly, as Clippers’ reporters heaped praise on him in the postgame news conference via Zoom.

George had 37 points on 12 of 22 shooting, with 16 rebounds and five assists.

“It was a big statement (by George),” Lue said. “He is a great player. He carried us. He had to step up in that first half. He really dominated offensively. And then in the second half he made some great passes. We didn’t knock down shots every time, but he made some great reads as well.”

The Clippers forced turnovers on the Jazz’s first two possessions and rolled out to a 5-0 lead, forcing Jazz coach Quin Snyder to take a timeout less than two minutes into the game. That was a sign of things to come — the Jazz finished with 13 turnovers and missed eight costly free throws.

The rest of the quarter belonged to Utah’s Bogdanovic, who made 7 of his first 8 3-point attempts. Bogey missed his last five shots from deep to end the first half, but still had 23 at the break.

He finished with 32, as Lue’s adjustments cooled him off considerably.

Fortunately for the Clippers, they still had George. The former Fresno State star — he was recruited there by former BYU coach Steve Cleveland — had 22 in the first half on 9 of 14 shooting.

“I knew I had to be big tonight, and I gotta be big moving forward,” George said.

The Jazz finished the first half 17 of 30 from 3-point range, but as Lue said, the Clippers felt like they had weathered the storm.

Morris, the Kansas product who dissed Utah after Game 4, saying nobody likes to go to the Beehive State, got the Clips off to a good start with 10 first-quarter points. With the Jazz clamping down on George in the second half, Morris and Jackson went to work.

“We have been in this situation before where other guys had to step up and be ready to play. And every guy that played contributed,” Lue said. “And that is the team that we have: mentally tough, mentally strong. We just keep fighting to the end.”

With Mike Conley missing his fourth-straight game with hamstring issues, Utah struggled offensively in the second half when Los Angeles limited Mitchell’s touches. Utah was 20 of 54 from 3-point range.

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Meanwhile, George bantered with fans courtside, after telling Lue before the game when he learned that Leonard would be out: “T, don’t worry, I got this.”

That he did.

As for Utah’s fans, George praised their passion, saying “You love it, as hostile as it is.” 

He said it is a “pleasure to be able to play in front of these fans” and called them some of the best and loudest in the league.

Both George and Mann said the Jazz won’t give up in Game 6, with or without their all-star point guard, and whether or not Leonard plays.

“They won’t give up ever,” Mann said. “They are the No. 1 team in the NBA for a reason. They are fighters.”

But on Wednesday night, that role belonged to the visiting Clippers.