SALT LAKE CITY — The Clippers did Kawhi Leonard proud.
Without their All-NBA first-teamer, Paul George and Co. sent most of the 18,007 Jazz fans to the exits before the final buzzer at Vivint Arena on Wednesday night in Game 5 of their Western Conference semifinal series.
The night after learning they’d lost Leonard indefinitely with a right knee injury he suffered late in Game 4, the Clippers put Utah on the ropes, beating the top-seeded Jazz, 119-111, and delivering them a third consecutive loss for the first time this season.
The odds now are on the Clippers’ side that they’ll be able to advance – for the first time in franchise history – to the conference finals: the team that wins Game 5 in best-of-seven series moves on 83% of the time.
The Clippers take a 3-2 series lead into Game 6 on Friday night at Staples Center – where, for the first time this season, COVID-19 restrictions will be relaxed enough that a capacity crowd will be permitted to watch them take a shot at team history.
The Clippers surely missed their decorated teammate on Wednesday, but they managed admirably without him.
It helps that Paul George, the seven-time All-Star and third-team All-NBA selection this season, is a pretty fantastic hooper too.
“He’s special,” Clippers guard Reggie Jackson said of his friend. “He gave us everything we needed and then some.”
George stayed aggressive Wednesday, finishing with 37 points on 11-for-17 shooting, in addition to grabbing 16 rebounds and five assists.
It was George’s third consecutive 30-some-point game and also his 12th consecutive playoff game with at least 20 – a Clippers record.
What it was: Exactly what the Clippers needed.
As he has so often this season, Reggie Jackson continued to step up in important moments. On Wednesday that meant delivering in the fourth quarter, when he had 10 of his 20 points and went 4 for 6 from the field.
“Reggie loves this moment, he loves the big stage,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said before the game. “He’s not going to shy away from the moment and that’s what we need out on the floor tonight.”
The Jazz took a 65-60 lead into halftime thanks to a 3-point extravaganza in the first half. Led by Bojan Bogdanovic’s seven first-half 3s, Utah went 17 for 30 from behind the arc before intermission – one shy of an NBA record for made 3s in a half, but a franchise record nonetheless, by five.
It was an impressive assault, but the Clippers weathered it, foreshadowing what lay ahead.
L.A. never lost contact, continually pulling close – and a couple of times, in front – thanks largely to quick hands and a determined dose of George.
Of Utah’s 11 first-half turnovers (which translated into 17 points for the Clippers), 10 of them were steals – more than any other team had recorded in a half this postseason.
George eclipsed his 21.5 points per game Games 1 and 2 scoring average before the break, entering halftime with 22 points in 18 minutes on 9-for-14 shooting, plus eight rebounds.
The Jazz continued to miss the calming presence of Mike Conley at point guard. The All-Star has missed every game this series with a strained hamstring. Without him, they cooled all the way off after the break, going 0 for 10 from behind the arc in the third period and just 6 for 22 from the field – with Gobert responsible for three of those buckets. Utah made only three 3-pointers in the second half.
Meanwhile, Marcus Morris Sr. turned up the heat for the Clippers, playing all 12 minutes of the third period and going 5 for 6 from the field for 12 points that helped L.A. gain control.
Bogdanovic led the Jazz with 32 points and Donovan Mitchell finished with 21 points on 9-for-16 shooting, the fewest of this postseason.
More to come on this story.