2021 NBA conference semifinals previews: (1) Utah Jazz vs. (4) Los Angeles Clippers
The Jazz made quick work of the Memphis Grizzlies once Donovan Mitchell returned in Game 2 from his ankle sprain, even if Ja Morant and company managed to keep much of the five-game series competitive. Mitchell averaged 28.5 points (45/40/90 shooting splits), 5.8 assists and three rebounds in just 30 minutes over his four appearances, looking every bit the rising superstar he did in last year's first-round loss to the Denver Nuggets. This time, Mitchell got a whole lot more help from one of the deepest rotations around. No longer hamstrung by the injury that limited him in last season's playoffs, Mike Conley was incredibly efficient against the Grizzlies, averaging 17.
After a decade of failing to break through the Western Conference semifinals with the likes of Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Kawhi Leonard and Lou Williams, the Los Angeles Clippers found their man on Friday.
More specifically Terance Mann, the 2019 second-rounder who barely cracked the rotation last season. Terance Mann, the bench guard who played less than 10 minutes combined in Games 1 and 2. Terance Mann, the spearhead of a 25-point second-half comeback to send the Clippers to where they have never gone before.
Behind Mann's 39 points, the Clippers defeated the Utah Jazz 131-119 to win their series 4-2 and book their first trip to the Western Conference finals in franchise history, ending the longest such drought in major American professional sports.
One Game 4 possession illustrates how Clippers' defense smothered Jazz's offense
Los Angeles dominated once again in Monday night's Game 4, defeating Utah 118-104 to even the series, but the offense wasn't the story. This time, the Clippers cranked up the defensive intensity. MORE: NBA Twitter reacts to Leonard dunking on Favors Bojan Bogdanovic scored the first bucket of the contest to put the Jazz up by two points with 11:40 on the clock. Utah scored just 11 points the rest of the opening period, as Clippers players flew around the court and disrupted the Jazz's offensive flow.
© Provided by Yahoo! Sports Terance Mann played the game of his life. (Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY Sports)
The Clippers Clippers'd the Jazz
It was the kind of the game the Clippers have been on the bad side of for so long in their miserable history.
The Jazz opened the game on a scoring tear, and it only got worse from there. A 21-point second quarter from Jordan Clarkson pushed Utah to a 22-point lead at halftime. The lead reached as much as 25 points during the third quarter.
And then Mann, who co-led the Clippers in scoring in the first half, reached a gear no one — repeat, no one — thought he could reach. He scored 20 points in the third quarter, and finished with a career-high 39 on 15-of-21 shooting (7-of-10 from deep).
Actually, we should be more specific. It wasn't Mann's playoffs career high. It wasn't his NBA career high. It was the most points he had scored in a game since high school.
'Playoff P' pushes Clippers to brink of first Western Conference finals
After sweeping Games 3 and 4 in Los Angeles, the Clippers traveled to Utah for Game 5 where it looked like the Western Conference semifinals series would go the distance. The Phoenix Suns, who swept their semifinal series, await in the conference finals. It’s a huge loss to the Clippers after he averaged 32.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and four assists in Games 3 and 4, and it appeared that it could swing the momentum in the series. It was time forBut Kawhi Leonard, who was named to the All-NBA First Team on Tuesday, tweaked his knee late in Game 4. The Clippers fear that he’ll be out indefinitely with an ACL injury. It’s a huge loss to the Clippers after he averaged 32.5 points, 9.
Mann had only been starting because of Kawhi Leonard's ACL injury during Game 4. Throughout the first half, he ended up with Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert assigned to him via switches and punished the big man. Repeatedly.
Behind Mann, as well as 28 points, nine rebounds and seven assists from Paul George and 27 points and 10 assists from Reggie Jackson, the Clippers launched 40-12 run between the third and fourth quarters. That's one way to exorcise some demons.
Clippers reverse another 2-0 series deficit
Gallery: Sixers individual player grades after Game 5 home loss to Hawks (SMG)
For a team whose most painful moments are constantly harped on, the Clippers have done nothing but instill nightmares in their opponents this postseason.
The team opened its playoff run by falling behind 2-0 to the Dallas Mavericks, then tied the series two games later. It fell behind 3-2 in Game 5, then won two straight to survive.
Terance Mann's mind-blowing Game 6 performance had NBA Twitter in shambles
Terance Mann gave the LA Clippers a performance for the ages in Game 6, helping his team trim a 25-point deficit against the Utah Jazz down to 3 points. In the first half of Game 6 Friday night, it felt like a Game 7 between the LA Clippers and Utah Jazz would be inevitable. After winning a big G ame 5 on the road in Salt Lake City, the Clippers were pulverized by an onslaught of Jazz 3-pointers early in Game 6. It was a disappointing first half, especially with the series shifting back to Los Angeles for a potential closeout game, and the home team was down by 22 points at the break. Early in the third quarter, they trailed by as many as 25.
Facing the top-seeded Jazz, the Clippers again fell behind 2-0. No team in NBA history had reversed multiple 2-0 series deficits in a single postseason. Then the Clippers won four straight games, despite losing Leonard halfway through and falling behind by 25 points in Game 6.
After quite possibly the greatest game in franchise history, the team's fans had plenty to celebrate:
Another painful exit for the Jazz
This isn't how it was supposed to end for the Jazz.
The team had the best record in the NBA during the regular season at 52-20. It had the Defensive Player of the Year in Gobert. It had the Sixth Man of the Year in Clarkson. It had one of the best collections of 3-point shooters in the NBA. And it had Donovan Mitchell, who scored 39 points on Friday and will leave the postseason having averaged 32.3 points per game.
The team has now posted another disappointing playoff exit, losing to a Clippers team missing two starters (Leonard and center Serge Ibaka). It lost in the first round the two seasons before this, but this may be the worst ending of them all.
The Clippers celebrating Terance Mann's career night was just the best thing ever
Terance Mann just played the biggest game of his life in game 6 against the Utah Jazz. He showed every bit of star potential he had against one of the league's best defenses with 39 points and 7 made 3-pointers. He was absolutely phenomenal. But what…He showed every bit of star potential he had against one of the league’s best defenses with 39 points and 7 made 3-pointers. He was absolutely phenomenal.
Who is Terance Mann?
In case this is your first introduction to Terance Mann, here are the basics.
Mann was a good but not great player at Florida State who entered the NBA draft after his senior year and ended up where good but not great seniors typically end up: the second round. The Clippers grabbed Mann with the 48th overall pick of the 2019 NBA draft. He had one notable proponent: Clippers executive Jerry West, who predicted Mann would play a large role by the end of the season.
That didn't quite materialize. Mann played in only 41 games during the 2019-20 season, averaging 2.4 points in 8.8 minutes per game. He played 27 total minutes in the Clippers' disastrous playoff run.
Mann's role expanded in his sophomore season under new head coach Tyronn Lue, posting some big performances off the bench while the Clippers dealt with injuries. He wasn't exactly Plan A though, as shown by his lack of use earlier this series.
That probably won't be true from here on out.
The Clippers will play their first ever Western Conference finals game on Sunday against the Phoenix Suns.
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NBA playoffs: Chris Paul's 41 points put away Clippers, Suns advance to first NBA Finals since 1993 .
Chris Paul looked like a man playing for his first trip to an NBA Finals in a 16-year career, and that performance now has his Phoenix Suns one series away from their first-ever championship. The Suns defeated the shorthanded Los Angeles Clippers 130-103 to win the Western Conference finals and advance to the Finals, their first trip since 1993. It took a vintage night from Paul, for better or worse, to get them there. Paul finished with 41 points on 16-of-24 shooting (7-of-8 from deep), eight assists, four rebounds and three steals. BIG-TIME FOUR-POINT PLAY FROM CHRIS PAUL ???? pic.twitter.