The Los Angeles Clippers are one win away from advancing past what has turned into a battle of attrition.
Los Angeles took a 3-2 lead in its second-round series against the Utah Jazz with a 119-111 victory in Wednesday's Game 5 at Vivint Arena. Paul George, Marcus Morris Sr. and Reggie Jackson led the way in the winning effort and helped make up for the loss of star Kawhi Leonard, who was sidelined with a knee injury.
Notable showings from Bojan Bogdanovic and Donovan Mitchell weren't enough for the Jazz, who have been without point guard Mike Conley (hamstring) throughout the series.
Notable Player Stats
- Paul George, G, LAC: 37 PTS, 16 REB, 5 AST, 2 BLK
- Marcus Morris Sr., F, LAC: 25 PTS
- Reggie Jackson, G, LAC: 22 PTS, 3 AST, 2 STL
- Donovan Mitchell, G, UTA: 21 PTS, 5 REB, 5 AST
- Bojan Bogdanovic, F, UTA: 32 PTS, 9-of-17 3PT
Paul George Leads Balanced Effort for Shorthanded Clippers
Not since his Indiana Pacers days has there been so much individual pressure on George to carry his team in a critical moment as the unquestioned go-to option.
Without Leonard, Los Angeles needed George to be the two-way superstar who can do a little bit of everything. That was especially the case on the road, and he wasted no time responding by aggressively attacking the basket and battling for boards even against taller frontcourt players.
The result was 22 points in the first half for the seven-time All-Star, which helped keep the Clippers well within striking distance despite red-hot shooting from the Jazz.
The visitors took over during the third quarter to build a double-digit lead. George continued to pick his spots without forcing the issue, and Morris provided important secondary scoring when Utah collapsed on George.
It was Jackson's turn to be the secondary playmaker in the fourth quarter, as he hit multiple outside shots and then assisted on a Nicolas Batum three to answer a Utah burst, pushing the lead back to double digits. He did it again after the Jazz closed to within three with a corner triple and drive right at Rudy Gobert to create more breathing room.
Throw in a monster dunk over Gobert by Terance Mann in crunch time, and a number of Clippers contributed with the game hanging in the balance.
Yet it was George who connected on an and-1 jumper from the elbow in the final two minutes to answer one more challenge by the Jazz. He also led all players in rebounding and, at least for one night, emphatically answered any lingering questions from last year's second-round loss regarding his ability to deliver when it matters most.
Jazz Fall Apart in Second Half
This was a golden opportunity the Jazz likely had to take advantage of if they are going to deliver on their championship hopes.
After all, they had the home-court advantage they earned during the regular season by going 31-5 at Vivint Arena. Los Angeles also didn't have its two-time NBA Finals MVP leading the way, which was probably an even bigger absence than Conley's.
Bogdanovic and Jordan Clarkson had a sense of the moment right from the start and combined for 11 three-pointers in the first half alone. It was the exact spark the team needed, especially after the Jazz struggled to generate enough offense outside of Mitchell until it was too late in Game 4.
And then the triples stopped falling.
Utah didn't make a single three-pointer in the third quarter as it fell behind by double digits. Mitchell also wasn't the dominant force he was during the first four games of this series, which seemingly left the Jazz grasping for straws offensively. Were it not for Rudy Gobert's offensive rebounding, the No. 1 seed may have fallen completely out of the game before the fourth.
Frankly, the Jazz were fighting an uphill battle throughout the game with Mitchell just a step slower with the ball in his hands. They failed to build sustained momentum, as every small push seemed to end with a missed three or failed defensive possession.
All hope is not lost for the No. 1 seed considering the Clippers still might not have Leonard as they attempt to close the series out, but the abysmal second half in Game 5 will linger for Utah if it doesn't win two straight.
The series returns to Los Angeles for Friday's Game 6.