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We're allowed to praise Paul George for a playoff performance, right?
That's really all you can do after the often-mocked Los Angeles Clippers star guided his team from its darkest morning to one of its brightest nights: praise him for posting one of his best games in a Clippers uniform in a pivotal playoff game on the road with his costar out indefinitely.
Behind George's 37 points, 16 rebounds and five assists, the Clippers topped the Utah Jazz 119-111 to take a 3-2 series lead on Wednesday, moving to one game away from their first-ever Western Conference finals.
The opening score was 0-0, but you couldn't be blamed for thinking the Clippers were already playing out of a hole. Wednesday morning brought news that their superstar Kawhi Leonard had injured his ACL and would miss Game 5, and likely more. In a series where the Clippers had all the momentum, confidence in them plummeted.
Clippers overcome hot Jazz start
Things got even more dire when the Jazz opened the game by shooting lights out. By the end of the first half, they were a comical 17-of-30 from the 3-point line. And yet, the Clippers were only down by five points at the half thanks to a brilliant night on offense of their own.
Things kicked into gear as soon as the third quarter began, with the Clippers moving from that five-point deficit to a six-point lead in the span of four minutes. Los Angeles would never relinquish that lead, while the Jazz would finish with just three made 3-pointers in the second half.
Assisting George in Leonard's absence was Marcus Morris Sr., who posted his second straight great game with a postseason career-high 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting. Reggie Jackson also came on strong in the fourth quarter, finishing with 21 points. And, of course, Terance Mann, starting in Leonard's place, did this to Rudy Gobert:
It was unquestionably George's night though, with the Clippers giving as much of the ballhandling work to him as they could in front of a hostile Utah crowd.
Of course, George performing well in a playoff game is nothing new this season. He's had some down games, yes (as any heavy 3-point shooter will have), but Wednesday was his third time topping 30 points this series. A negative reputation forged through a disastrous performance in the bubble (amid mental health struggles) has stuck to George throughout the season, even as he averaged 23.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game while shooting 41.1% from deep in the regular season.
Even with Wednesday's win, little will likely change unless the Clippers launch the deep run that has eluded them throughout their franchise's history, even without Leonard. It's a load the Clippers likely hoped George would never have to shoulder, but Game 5 at least offered a good start.
Game 6 is scheduled for 10 p.m. ET on Friday in Los Angeles.
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