LOS ANGELES — Paul George, Terance Mann and the Los Angeles Clippers have learned to thrive under adversity.
So, when they trailed by 25 points early in the third quarter Friday night in Game 6 of their Western Conference semifinal series against the Utah Jazz, it was nothing new.
Instead of being rattled, the Clippers rallied, posting the largest comeback victory by a team in a series-clinching win over the last 25 seasons and advancing to a conference final for the first time in the franchise’s 51-year history.
Mann scored 25 of his career-high 39 points in the second half as the Clippers posted a 131-119 victory to eliminate the Jazz.
The Clippers are the first team in NBA history to rally from a pair of 2-0 series deficits in the same postseason. They had to do it this time without All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard, who was sidelined by a sprained right knee for the final two games.
“They have been starving, starved for success. They have had a lot of good teams and just caught a lot of bad breaks. We know when Kawhi went down, probably thinking the same thing over and over again,” coach Tyronn Lue said. “Our team, I just tell you, they just don’t quit. It’s a total team effort and we are all trying to win and our team is willing to do whatever it takes to win.”
The fourth-seeded Clippers will face second-seeded Phoenix in the Western Conference finals. Game 1 is Sunday in Phoenix. Los Angeles won two of the three games in the regular season.
The close-out victory was viewed by 17,105 at Staples Center, marking the first time in 15 months the Clippers had played in front of a full house after California eased COVID-19 safety restrictions on Tuesday.
“You felt the monkey off of the Clippers’ back in terms of getting out of the second round,” said George, who had 28 points. “It was just a special night. You know, you felt it, the cheers, the excitement.
“The playoffs are about grit. It’s about fighting. It’s about whatever it takes, and time after time, I think we’ve shown that.”
Mann — who had 25 points in the first five games of the series — helped bring the Clippers back with 20 points in the third quarter. Utah had a 94-91 lead going into the final 12 minutes, but Jackson gave the Clippers their first lead since early in the second quarter when his layup made it 96-95 with 10:36 remaining.
Mann was 15 of 21 from the field and also became just the third player in franchise history to make at least seven 3s in a postseason game.
“You saw a full complete game from a second-year player,” said George of Mann. “I mean, you saw him stretch the floor. You saw him rebound, muscle his way to the basket. You just saw so many flashes of so many different things. He did it in the most crucial part of the game.”
The Clippers had a 107-106 lead with eight minutes remaining before they seized control with nine straight points, including five by Mann. The closest the Jazz would get after that was six.
Donovan Mitchell led top-seeded Utah with 39 points. It is the second time in franchise history the Jazz have blown a 25-point lead in a postseason game.
Royce O’Neale added 21 for the Jazz. They had the NBA’s top regular-season record but lost four straight for the first time all year.
“We just turned the ball over a lot. We didn’t execute defensively. We didn’t get back and let their guys do whatever they want,” said Mitchell, who had seven games in the playoffs with 30 or more points.
Mitchell opened the second half with a 33-foot, step back 3-pointer to give the Jazz a 75-50 lead 24 seconds into the third quarter. It was 88-67 with 6:37 remaining when LA fought its way back by going on a 21-2 run to get within a basket with 1:42 remaining with 10 points from Mann and Jackson scoring nine.
“When Mitchell hit that 3-pointer, I was thinking that we didn’t want to go home,” Mann said. “I had a lot to do. They left me open and I hit my shots. The offense is going to take care of itself if you are confident in your game.”
A dunk by O’Neale and Mitchell’s pair of free throws pushed Utah’s lead back up to six, but Jackson’s 3-pointer’s with 11.1 seconds remaining cut the advantage in half heading into the fourth quarter.
The first half saw 12 lead changes. Rajon Rondo’s layup with 9:17 remaining in the second quarter gave LA a 41-40 lead before Utah outscored the Clippers 33-10 the remainder of the half to take a 72-50 advantage at the break.
The Jazz went on a 21-2 run that included 17 straight points by Jordan Clarkson, including a pair of 3-pointers.
“It’s hard, particularly when we have the kind of lead we did going into the second half to see the game finish that way and the season finish that way,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “I’m incredibly proud of this team. When we finish on a game like this, it’s hard to reflect what I think was some high level performances in the playoffs, what Donovan was able to do, a lot of the individual things that our guys did.”