Paul George puts the Utah Jazz on notice

They say that players take on the personality of their coaches. If that is the case, make no mistake about this: This season’s Los Angeles Clippers are a different bunch than what we have seen in the past. They have fire. They have passion. They have grit. And they don’t back down to anyone.

The Clippers played Game 5 of their second-round playoff series against the Utah Jazz without Kawhi Leonard. They would have to pull off a win in front of a hostile and jeering sellout crowd of 18,007 screaming fans at Vivint Arena. To do that, they had to weather the shooting storm by Utah that saw the Jazz make 72 percent of their shots in the first quarter.

“They came out hot,” Clippers guard Paul George said. “Only thing we were thinking, that they can’t sustain it. At one point they shot 30 or 37 of their attempts or something like that. So most of their shots were threes. We just knew we had to weather it. At some point hopefully, we could cool them down. But we couldn’t rely on that. We had to come back and attack them on the other end and be aggressive. That’s really what it came down to.”

So with Utah shooting lights out in the first period after making 13 of 18 shots from the field, including connecting on 10 of 15 attempts from 3-point land, the Clippers trailed only by one point, 37-36. That in itself was a message to the Jazz. Utah fans expecting a rout found themselves tormented in disappointment as the Clippers would up beating the Jazz in a surprising 119-111 win.

“We faced adversity all year,” said Terance Mann, who stepped into the role of small forward in place of Leonard for Game 5. “There’s been plenty of games where we’ve been down and we came back. We’re just a team that never goes away. We never give up, same as the Jazz. We are two similar teams. We always feel like we can win the game no matter how much we are down or whatever’s going on. Everybody in the huddles is always talking about there’s plenty of time, we can still win, let’s go out there and lock in. That’s just how we are. We’ve been like that all year.”

The mighty Jazz didn’t see this coming. Utah, the team which posted the NBA’s best record throughout the regular season and was the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference in the playoffs, is one game away from being eliminated from the postseason.

“Disappointing, I think, for us, understanding that this was a winnable game for us,” said Utah guard Donovan Mitchell, who scored 21 points for the Jazz. “Outside of Paul having a great night and a few other guys doing well, but I think disappointed. But understanding that we can’t really sit here and sulk. The series is not over. We got a lot of life left to give and a lot of juice to give and we just got to go out there and play with a level of desperation that we have never played with before, otherwise we’ll be home.”

Mitchell and his teammates have a right to be disappointed and upset. They should be. The Jazz has now lost three games in a row after putting the Clippers in a 0-2 hole. Maybe Mitchell and the rest of the Jazz thought going into this series that they were playing against the Clippers of past postseason woes where Los Angeles would play well but eventually fold.

That didn’t happen after the team fell into that unimaginable two-game deficit. That didn’t happen in Game 5. The team that Mitchell and his Utah teammates are facing is resilient. They scrap. They do what they need to do to try to pull out a victory. That means everybody stepping up their game.

Mann scored 13 points while filling in for Leonard. Marcus Morris Sr. came up big with 25 points. Reggie Jackson was also huge with 22 points to supplement the Clippers scoring against Utah. But the star of the game was George. The Jazz got a good helping of George’s dominance in Game 5.

No Leonard, no problem. Without his running mate out on the court, George produced the type of game Clippers fans have been waiting on since he arrived in Los Angeles in 2019. George’s masterpiece of 37 points and 16 rebounds in front of a hostile sellout crowd of 18,007 screaming people inside of Vinvint Arena, just turned the series in the Clippers’ favor.

“He carried us,” Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue said of George. “He had to step up in that first half and he really dominated offensively. And then the second half he made some great passes. We did knock-down shots every time but he made some good reads as well. I thought like I said, having those rebounds was key because there was a stretch where Gobert really hurt us on the glass. But for PG to have 16 rebounds, that was huge.”

George said the moment called for him to step up.

It was no secret,” George said about his performance. “I knew I had to be big tonight and got to be big going forward. It was just no secret coming into this, and you know, I just first put faith in God, believed in myself. My teammates trusted me. T-Lue trusted me. And you know, I thought we just lived in the moment and we just played our hearts out tonight.”

Featured Image Caption: Paul George (13) of the Los Angeles Clippers in action. Photo credit: Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline