The Los Angeles Clippers are two wins away from their first trip to the Western Conference Finals in franchise history.
L.A. evened its second-round playoff series against the Utah Jazz at 2-2 with a 118-104 victory in Monday's Game 4 at Staples Center. Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Marcus Morris Sr. led the way in the winning effort and ensured the pattern of the home team winning every game in this series continued.
An impressive showing from Donovan Mitchell wasn't enough for the Jazz, who remained without Mike Conley because of a hamstring injury.
Notable Player Stats
- Kawhi Leonard, F, LAC: 31 PTS, 7 REB, 3 AST, 2 STL
- Paul George, G, LAC: 31 PTS, 9 REB, 4 AST
- Marcus Morris Sr., F, LAC: 24 PTS, 6 REB, 5-of-6 3PT
- Donovan Mitchell, G, UTA: 37 PTS, 5 AST, 5 REB
- Bojan Bogdanovic, F, UTA: 18 PTS, 5 AST, 3 REB, 2 STL
- Joe Ingles, G, UTA: 19 PTS, 3 AST, 3 REB
Clippers Cruise Behind Kawhi and PG13
Nobody in the entire league was under as much scrutiny entering these playoffs as George and the Clippers, who failed to capitalize on championship expectations last year in large part because the seven-time All-Star struggled as they blew a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets in the second round.
The criticism was there once again when they fell behind 2-0 to the Dallas Mavericks in the first round and 2-0 to the Jazz in this round.
Yet they continue to bounce back, and George was a big part of the early efforts Monday with his rebounding, outside shooting and ability to get to the free-throw line. Throw in Leonard posterizing Derrick Favors with a monster slam as he continued to get to the rim and Morris catching fire from long range, and Los Angeles looked downright unstoppable in the first half.
The Clippers of old may have folded when the Jazz made a charge to start the third quarter as they cut the 29-point lead in half with multiple three-pointers and transition opportunities.
Instead, George dunked in the lane and hit a three, Leonard hit his patented pull-up jumpers, and the defense delivered on important possessions to make sure the visitors didn't generate too much momentum.
That was all that was needed thanks to the early dominance, and Ivica Zubac's tip-in to end the third quarter and push the lead back to 21 seemingly ended any chance the Jazz had at completing a dramatic comeback. The only real concern was Leonard, who didn't play in the final minutes after slightly limping and rubbing his knee.
Leonard is a given if healthy as a two-time NBA Finals MVP who can carry the team on both ends, but the Clippers need George to play to his potential if they are going to win this series and the title. It is encouraging that he responded in his second consecutive pressure-packed contest after pouring in 31 points in Game 3, and the team will look to build on that on the road.
Donovan Mitchell's Big Scoring Night Not Enough for Jazz
There was reason for concern from Utah's perspective even before Monday's game.
After all, Conley still hasn't played yet in this series, which has left it without its floor general who sets up others for ideal looks and hits from the outside when needed. Mitchell also limped multiple times throughout the Game 3 loss, and it is nearly impossible to envision the Jazz winning this series if he is sidelined.
Things didn't get much better out of the gates for the visitors in Game 4, as they fell behind by as many as 29 points and looked completely lost on the defensive side for extended stretches.
The one silver lining was the performance of Mitchell. The two-time All-Star did what he could to keep his team within striking distance by slashing through the lane, finishing through contact and connecting from three-point range. He poured in 21 points in the first half alone as the only member of his team in double figures.
Rudy Gobert didn't even attempt a shot from the field in the first half, and the supporting cast was nowhere to be found until the Jazz picked up the pace in the third quarter and started looking for quick three-pointers.
While Mitchell forced the issue at times and ended up with five turnovers, he continued to create scoring opportunities for himself and reached the 30-point mark for the sixth straight game. Joe Ingles and Bojan Bogdanovic also picked up their play with perimeter shooting, which at least gives the Jazz something to build on heading back home.
Still, Jordan Clarkson didn't provide his typical scoring (3-of-12 from the field), and Utah was never able to dig out of the significant hole it found itself in following an abysmal first half.
The series shifts back to Utah for Wednesday's Game 5.