No Kawhi Leonard? No problem. The Los Angeles Clippers are headed to the conference finals for the first time in franchise history after overcoming a 25-point, second-half deficit in Game 6 of Friday night’s Western Conference semifinals series against Utah. After a tepid first two quarters (they trailed 72-50 at the break), the Clippers went ballistic in the second half, outscoring the top-seeded Jazz 81-47 during that span. Los Angeles put forth a balanced effort with five players scoring in double figures including second-year guard Terance Mann, who contributed a career-high 39 points on explosive 15-of-21 shooting.
Facing an 0-2 deficit for the second straight series, the Clippers never flinched, rattling off four straight wins to advance to the Western Conference Finals against the Suns, who haven’t played since completing a four-game sweep of Denver last Sunday. Donovan Mitchell, who was cleared just prior to tipoff after being a game-time decision (he’s been battling a sprained ankle), gave the Jazz everything he had, flirting with a triple-double in the losing effort (39 points, nine rebounds, nine assists). Playing for the first time this series, hobbled point guard Mike Conley made little impact in his return from a hamstring injury, totaling more turnovers (six) than points (five) as Utah watched its season slip away in demoralizing fashion.
Only the Knicks and Lakers yielded fewer points than Utah (led by three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert) during the regular season but that didn’t stop the Clippers from putting on a three-point clinic, draining 20-of-39 attempts from beyond the arc (51.3 percent). Paul George, who has spent years being castigated for his previous playoff failures, gave another superb performance, filling the void left by Leonard with 28 points (accomplished on 10-of-24 shooting), nine boards, seven assists and three steals. With Friday’s 131-119 victory at Staples Center, Clippers coach Tyronn Lue improved to 12-1 in closeout games for his career.
Los Angeles will make its conference finals debut in Phoenix Sunday at 3:30 PM ET. Even with Chris Paul’s status in doubt (he remains in the NBA’s COVID-19 protocol), the Suns enter Sunday’s Game 1 as considerable five-point favorites on FanDuel Sportsbook.