Bulls

Clippers erase 25-point deficit, head to first conference finals

Bulls
Terance Mann and Paul George

In the 50-year history of the Los Angeles Clippers organization, the team had never advanced to the Western Conference finals. 

Down 25 points in Game 6 against the Jazz on Friday, it seemed their chances of doing so were slipping with the prospect of a Game 7 in Utah looming.

That all changed thanks to one man: Terance Mann. 

Starting in place of the injured Kawhi Leonard, Mann powered a classic comeback to send the Clippers to the conference finals after a 131-119 win.

The second-year player -- selected 48th overall in the 2019 draft -- scored 20 of his career-high 39 points in the third as the Clippers erased what had been a 75-50 Utah lead.

Reggie Jackson capped a 17-0 Clippers run with a 3 that cut the deficit to 90-88 with 1:42 remaining in the third. After the Jazz went back up by six, Jackson drained another three with 11.1 seconds left in the quarter to make it a one-possession game at 94-91 heading into the fourth. The Clippers shot 71.4 percent in the quarter to outscore the Jazz 41-22.

The Clippers tied the score at 94 after Nicolas Batum hit a three in the opening minute of the fourth. Reggie Jackson then gave L.A. its first lead since the second quarter when he drove the lane and converted a layup for a 96-95 advantage.

The lead continued to change hands as Donovan Mitchell and Patrick Beverley exchanged 3-pointers. Paul George -- called "Playoff P" at times genuinely and occasionally mockingly -- then hit a 3 to give the Clippers a 102-99 lead with 9:34 remaining.

 

The lead grew to seven before Bojan Bogdanovic hit back-to-back threes to pull the Jazz within 107-106. George answered with a jumper, and Mann then converted a layup after an offensive rebound and feed from Jackson. George followed with a step-back jumper, and Mann then gave the Clippers a double-digit lead with a corner 3 that made it 116-106 with 5:33 left to all but seal the win and closeout the series.

The Clippers came back from an 0-2 series deficit to win four straight and upset the top-seeded Jazz. 

Mann shot 15-for-21 from the field, including 7 of 10 from deep, as he outscored the 25 combined points he scored in the first five games of the series. He filled the void left by Leonard and gave new meaning to the phrase, "The Mann. The Myth. The Legend."

George, after what was arguably the best game of his career in Game 5, had 28 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Jackson added 27 points and 10 assists.

Mitchell had 39 points for the Jazz, going 9-for-15 from 3-point range. Jordan Clarkson scored all 21 of his points in the second, singlehandedly outscoring the Clippers (19) in the quarter. That included 17 straight Utah points to power a 21-2 run that opened a 60-42 lead with 4:37 left in the half. The Jazz connected on 12 of 19 3-point attempts in the half to take a 72-50 lead into the break. 

Even against a team without its best player, the lead wasn't enough as the Clippers scored 81 second-half points to orchestrate one of the biggest comebacks in NBA postseason history.

No team in the four major sports had gone longer without advancing to the conference finals. Decades of frustrations led to this moment as the Clippers advance to take on the Phoenix Suns on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET, with the status of Leonard and the Suns' Chris Paul still in question.

The Western Conference finals have long run through Los Angeles, with the Lakers making deep postseason runs as the Clippers watched from home. The roles have been reversed this season as the Clippers move on in what is now the most successful season in franchise history.