The Los Angeles Clippers are advancing to the Western Conference finals. While Kawhi Leonard was out of the lineup with an injury in Game 6, the Clippers got the job done and advanced to the conference finals for the first time in franchise history with a 131-119 victory over the Utah Jazz.
With the win, they will now face off against the Phoenix Suns for the right to play in the NBA Finals.
Here are four takeaways from the game:
1. Clippers complete incredible comeback
The first quarter of this game was extremely competitive, but soon afterward the Jazz took control. Jordan Clarkson caught fire, they couldn’t miss from 3-point land, and early in the third quarter the lead had ballooned to 25 points. With Kawhi Leonard still out due to a knee injury, the game seemed over.
But with a few baskets here and a few baskets there, the Clippers quietly worked their way back into the game. By the latter period of the third quarter, they had cut it down to 10 points. There was still a ton of work for them to do, but the crowd was into the game and all of sudden a comeback wasn’t such a crazy idea.
It quickly snowballed from there, and with 9:34 left in the fourth quarter, Paul George hit a 3-pointer to give the Clippers the lead for good. They flat-out dominated in the second half and made history in the process. Their 25-point comeback was the largest in a series-clinching playoff game in the last 25 seasons, and if that wasn’t incredible enough, the Jazz had been 232-1 when leading by 25-plus points in that time frame.
In addition to the actual game, the win also meant the Clippers came back from a 2-0 series deficit for the second series in a row. After collapsing in the playoffs last season, they showed tremendous fight this time around.
2. Clippers make first conference finals in franchise history
There’s plenty to talk about with this game and how it happened, but it’s also worth taking a step back to acknowledge the historical importance of this win. The Clippers have now advanced to the conference finals for the first time in franchise history, snapping a 50-year drought that dated back to their debut as the Buffalo Braves.
Not only was it the longest conference finals drought among NBA teams, it was the longest among any team in the four major North American sports leagues. Long the laughing stock of the NBA, the Clippers had only won six playoff series coming into this season. In the last few weeks they’ve won two, and will now move on to play the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference finals.
3. Jazz collapse again
Last season, the Jazz gave up a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs. It was a bad loss, but you could give them a break because of the bubble situation and the fact that they weren’t entirely healthy. In the offseason, they regrouped and seemed to have put that defeat behind them by finishing with the best record in the league in the regular season.
But, now, here we are again talking about how they fell apart in the playoffs. They took care of business at home to jump out to a 2-0 lead in this series, and appeared to be in control. Even though they lost the next two games, they were still favorites to advance once Kawhi Leonard was ruled out with a knee injury. Yet, instead of taking advantage of that fortunate break, the Jazz lost Game 5 at home, then gave up a 25-point lead in Game 6 to lose the series 4-2.
They could point to the fact that they weren’t all the way healthy again, but it’s hard to do so when the other team was missing one of the 10 best players in the league. The fact of the matter is the Jazz just aren’t good enough in the playoffs, and it’s hard to win when teams can scheme one of your best players off the floor. The Jazz lost the Rudy Gobert minutes in each of the last four games, and he was a minus-24 in Game 6.
You have to imagine there will be some major changes in Utah this offseason. They can’t run back this roster again after two straight embarrassing playoff exits.
4. The Terance Mann Game
Earlier in the playoffs we got to experience “The Shake Milton Game,” when the Philadelphia 76ers guard came off the bench and singlehandedly won them Game 2 with a second-half surge. That was cool, but it was nothing compared to “The Terance Mann Game.”
The second-year swingman had played limited minutes in the first four games of the series, but had to take on a much bigger role once Kawhi Leonard got injured. No one, not even Mann himself, could have expected he would take on the kind of role he did in Game 6, however.
He started off with a 3-pointer for the Clippers’ first basket of the game, and after a tip-dunk over Rudy Gobert had racked up 10 points inside the first four minutes. Along with the rest of the team, he went quiet in the second quarter before re-emerging in the second half in brilliant fashion. He poured in 20 points in the third quarter alone, and keyed a huge Clippers run to get back in the game.
With just over five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, he knocked down a wide-open 3 from the corner to give the Clippers a double digit lead and effectively seal the win. He finished with 39 points on 15-for-21 from the field, which was not only an NBA career-high, but more points than he’d ever scored in college. It was, without a doubt, the game of his life.