Plaschke: Paul George shows up in Game 3 win, giving the Clippers a chance in series

·5 min read
The Clippers' Paul George (13), seated next to Kawhi Leonard, cheers toward the end of the win over Utah on June 12, 2021.
The Clippers' Paul George (13), seated next to Kawhi Leonard, cheers toward the end of a 132-106 win over the Utah Jazz in Game 3 on Saturday. George had 31 points and hit six three-pointers. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

They screamed it.

Late in the first half of the Clippers’ survival second-round playoff game against the Utah Jazz on Saturday night, Paul George hit a trey over Royce O’Neale, spun on his heels and howled all the way back down the court.

They posed it.

Later in the half, George hit another three-pointer, this time over Donovan Mitchell, and stayed frozen in his shooting style while the roaring Staples Center crowd rumbled around him.

They fought it.

Goodness, did they fight it.

They brutalized on defense, they bullied on offense, and together the Clippers fought the notion that their two-games-to-none deficit was insurmountable and this series was unequivocally over.

This series is not over. This series is just getting started.

Winning what was essentially an elimination game for the fourth time in three weeks, the Clippers defeated the Jazz 132-106 to save their season and restore their hope.

“I think we competed at a high, high level,” said Clippers coach Tyronn Lue.

In doing so, they again avoided a low, low level. If they had lost, they would have trailed three games to none, and no team in NBA history has recovered from such a deficit.

If they had lost, they would seemingly have been resigned to another second-round failure amid talk of departing Kawhi Leonard, a revamped roster, a coaching hot seat and that dreaded Clippers Curse.

Instead, as they did three times while on the brink in the first round against the Dallas Mavericks, they showed up desperate. They showed up defiant. They showed up huge.

They showed up, then they showed off, Reggie Jackson wildly raising his hands and shouting to the sky while stalking off the court with 3:26 left and the Clippers leading by 22.

The fans raised their hands and shouted back and once again, the black-jersey-clad team infused the building with the light of resilience.

“We just played with a sense of urgency,” said Jackson.

Before the game, Lue claimed, “Our confidence has not wavered. We’re not shaken.”

He was prescient. His team was listening.

The Clippers' Paul George drives to the basket against the Utah Jazz's Derrick Favors in the second half June 12, 2021.
The Clippers' Paul George drives to the basket against the Utah Jazz's Derrick Favors during the second half Saturday. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

In the end, the only thing shaken was the Jazz’s sense of invincibility after they won the first two games of this series at their league-best home court in Salt Lake City.

The Clippers have now closed the gap to two games to one with Game 4 scheduled for Monday night here. If the Clippers lose, they’re back on the brink, but if they win, the Jazz would be reeling home.

“They played and they beat us,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder. “So we got to regroup and learn from it.”

The Saturday night resurgence started with George, who has been such an awful postseason performer with the Clippers that Utah fans derisively chanted his self-proclaimed nickname of “Playoff P.”

For this night, anyway, he was playoff gold, scoring 31 points on 50% shooting with five assists and eliciting spontaneous cries from fans walking the concourse.

“PG showed up! PG showed up!”

The problem is, under pressure, and after signing a $190-million contract extension last winter, George has rarely played like this. He entered the night shooting 35% in this series with more turnovers (six) than three-pointers (five).

But after the Jazz began the game with an 8-0 lead, George quickly asserted himself, hunting for shots, making the extra pass, swatting at everything on defense. At halftime, with the Clippers leading by 15, George had already scored 20 points on 50% shooting with plays that included the scream and the pose.

“I just shot my shots … simple as that,” said George.

He also took his shots, pushing and shoving and jawing with Jazz guard Joe Ingles throughout the game, then refusing to recognize him afterward.

“I don’t care about him, next question,” George said.

For one night, anyway, Playoff P answered all the questions.

“Once he got the flow going a little bit and got some shots going, his energy is electric and contagious,” said Jackson. “Once he gets going, we all feed off it and it makes the game easier for us.”

The resurgence ended, fittingly, with the Clippers’ other cornerstone, Leonard, scoring a dozen of his 34 points in the fourth quarter to seal it.

If you don’t think the other Clippers feed off their two stars — literally — just listen to Lue.

“We know that they are two of the best in the league,” Lue said, adding, “I don’t go to Mastro’s to order the ketchup, I go to order the steak. And tonight, our guys want steak. That’s what we need.”

It was a night they gorged themselves on impressive numbers. The Clippers outscored the Jazz 44-32 in the paint. They scored 24 points off 16 Jazz turnovers.

But the biggest number of all was a zero. They held Mitchell, the Jazz’ bucket machine who averaged 41 points in the first two games, to zero points in the first quarter.

Mitchell finally scored his first basket on a floater with 7:34 left in the second quarter but, by then, the Clippers were firmly in control of both him and the game, and he wound up with “only” 30 points.

“I think guys really came in with a mindset to take on the one-on-one challenge,” said Jackson, who was again a playoff revelation with 17 points. “Honestly we found a way to load up on him. Just try to load up on him, try to attack him.”

The Clippers are still trying to make history. No NBA team has recovered from a two-games-to-none deficit twice in a single postseason. And teams that lose the first two games on the road are 14-200, meaning the Clippers entered Saturday with a 6% chance of winning the series.

But it’s a chance. And on a revival Saturday night on Figueroa, the Clippers grabbed that chance, and squeezed it, and shook it, and now it’s different. Now it’s real.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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