LOS ANGELES – Patrick Beverley, Terance Mann and Reggie Jackson stood in the court asking the first sold-out crowd at the Staples Center in over a year to cheer even louder as the story unfolded in a dramatic way.
For the first time in their 51-year history, the LA Clippers are taking part in the Western Conference finals. And they did it the only way this Star Cross franchise could – the hard way.
The Clippers dropped 25 in the first few seconds of the third quarter and made a furious and historic comeback by running an unlikely 75:40 run to eliminate the Utah Jazz 131-119 and advance against the Phoenix Suns.
“This was the first time I’ve seen such a crowd,” said Paul George, who grew up in Palmdale, a suburb outside of Los Angeles, and joined Kawhi Leonard in 2019 to take the Clippers further than ever. “It was just a special night. You felt it, the cheering, the excitement. You felt the monkey on the back of the clippers when it comes to getting out of the second round. “
Just over nine months after LA embarrassingly forfeited a 3-1 lead against the Denver Nuggets in the last postseason in the second round, LA ended an epic comeback that sparked a flurry of emotion among a fan base that was mostly heartache and experienced frustration.
The clippers are usually the ones on the wrong end of the unlikely comebacks. But not this postseason. They were halfway behind at 22, according to ESPN Stats & Information, making the biggest half-time comeback in a series win in NBA history. They were also the first team to level a deficit of more than 20 points in a series win in the past 25 seasons.
“I was here when we were eighth seed and was just partying to get into the playoffs,” said Beverley, who has been with the team since 2017. “Finishing a game like this, making history, is special because [I’ve poured] Blood, sweat and tears in this s —. Injuries, friends are swapped … to be the last man and to make history is something special. “
The most memorable comeback in Clippers history was sparked by Mann. The sophomore striker, who averaged 7.0 points per game this season, started the second game in a row for an injured Leonard and delivered the game of his life. Mann scored 39 points, hitting 7 out of 10 3-pointers for LA.
“I just had to get in and do what I had to do,” said Mann, number 48 in the 2019 draft. “They left me open.”
While Leonard watched in the building, George finished a great streak with an almost triple-double of 28 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists to go with 3 steals. And Jackson continued his stellar postseason with more clutch shots, scoring 22 of his 27 points and providing all 10 of his assists in the comeback in the second half.
The Clippers needed everything they could muster to defeat Donovan Mitchell. The hobbled Utah star wasn’t going to go out without a fight, scoring 39 points and hitting 9 of 15 triples to leave with nine assists and nine rebounds on a bad ankle.
“It’s not quite there for me yet,” said Mitchell, who was a season-time decision, about the elimination from the playoffs. “I’m still in shock. … I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do next week. I’ll probably sit crazy as hell in here, watch the games and do whatever … This will eat me up for a long time to come when I see the Clippers and the Suns play in the conference finals. “
The Clippers were previously 0-8 all-time and had a chance to make an appearance in the conference finals. They had lost these games averaging 14.9 points.
But Friday’s win not only ended the longest losing streak with a chance of a conference final in NBA history, it also helped close some of the wounds in the bubble from last year’s playoff collapse.
“One of the biggest things we try from day one is wash it,” Jackson said of the breakdown last year. “Wash off the season we had behind us. Easier said than done. Bring a little bit of that hostility, a little bit of that sour taste from last year, but it was a whole new team.”
This postseason the Clippers have made their own history. They followed Utah 2-0 but won four straight afterward to become the first team in NBA history to break multiple 2-0 series deficits in a single postseason. They were 2-0 down against the Dallas Mavericks in the first round before winning that series in seven games.
With 17,105 fans grabbing the Staples Center for a basketball game for the first time since before the coronavirus pandemic following the lifting of health restrictions in California, the Clippers overcame a hot start from Mitchell and Jordan Clarkson. With Jazz starting point guard Mike Conley Jr. playing on the series for the first time since his hamstring injury in the first round, Mitchell shrugged off his injury early, scoring 16 points on a series of dazzling drives to the basket to go with three in the first quarter 3 hands. And then Clarkson caught fire, scoring 17 straight points in the second quarter to help Utah go 72:50 into halftime.
Utah pushed the lead to 75:50, but Mann didn’t let the Clippers fold. He scored 20 points in just under nine minutes, and LA cut it down to 90-88 before going into the fourth round with three points.
Clippers coach Ty Lue’s decision to go small paid off for the second streak in a row. Man who is 1.80 m tall did a lot of damage to Rudy Gobert, the 7-1 defensive player of the year. Mann scored 30 of his 39 with Gobert as the main defender, making it the third player to score 30 against a single main defender in a playoff game, according to ESPN Stats & Info data.
“You’ve seen a full game by a sophomore,” said George. “I mean, you saw him stretch the floor. You saw him defensive. You saw it bounce back. You saw how he made his way to the basket. You saw so many bolts of lightning from so many different things as part of the game. I think that’s the most impressive thing.
“To be honest, he single-handedly pushed us back through this route, where he only got – 3 after 3 to defensive downhill attacks. He did everything. “
The Jazz couldn’t stop the Clippers, who shot 30-for-42 (71.4%) in the second half, the highest percentage in a second half of a playoff game in the past 25 postseason.
After Nicolas Batum hit a 3 to give the Clippers a 107-100 lead with 8:40 remaining, Jazz took a break. During this and each subsequent break, Beverley, Mann, and Jackson kept pushing Clippers fans to get louder.
When Lue took out his starters 37.9 seconds before the end, the party was in full swing, and Mann went to the bench as the last starter to thunderous applause.
The LA Clippers move into the conference finals, leaving the Pelicans and Hornets as the last two active franchises to have never made this round.
Lue, who replaced Doc Rivers after last year’s playoff crisis, said, “Just seeing our fans and how they stayed through to the end and how they cheered, it just felt good. … base did the same. “
The former Lakers point guard then said the Clippers’ rival fan base should attend the celebration.
“I know the Lakers are out and there are a lot of Laker fans here,” said Lue. “But when the Lakers are gone and we’re not playing against the Lakers, you should cheer the Clippers because everything is in one city. I can just feel the love and I am very happy and proud of our boys. “