Minus their top player, the Los Angeles Clippers look to advance to the Western Conference finals for the first time in franchise history when they host the Utah Jazz on Friday night in Game 6.
The Clippers will try to make history without star Kawhi Leonard, who is expected to miss his second game in a row because of a sprained right knee. Los Angeles also is without Serge Ibaka for the rest of the playoffs as he recovers from back surgery.
Despite those key absences, the fourth-seeded Clippers seized a 3-2 series lead over top-seeded Utah with a 119-111 victory on Wednesday. Paul George took command with 37 points, 16 rebounds and five assists to lead a spirited effort by Los Angeles.
Now, George and his teammates will try to repeat that gutsy performance on their home court.
“Oh man, it was a blow,” George said, when asked about Leonard’s absence. “It was a tough blow. But you know, at the end of the day, we don’t want nothing but the best for Kawhi. It’s a positive; he can get some rest. Hopefully we can hold it down.”
Utah hopes to extend the series to a winner-take-all Game 7 on Sunday.
The Jazz grabbed a 2-0 lead in the series but have lost three straight games to put their season on the brink. Veteran guard Mike Conley has been sidelined because of a right hamstring strain, and star guard Donovan Mitchell acknowledged after Wednesday’s loss that his sore right ankle has worsened during the series.
“It’s tough, but I got to find a way,” Mitchell said. “Otherwise, I’m going to be home. And I said it last year, … and I said it during the year, we didn’t do all this to lose in the second round, so we’ve got to figure it the (expletive) out. Otherwise, that’s it. Excuse my language.”
Mitchell has been the Jazz’s leading scorer in 10 playoff games with 31.6 points per game on 44.7 percent shooting. Bojan Bogdanovic is averaging 18.5 points in the postseason, Conley ranks third with 17.4 points, and Jordan Clarkson (17.2) and Rudy Gobert (15.0) round out the top five.
Gobert also is averaging a team-high 12.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in the 2021 playoffs.
Leonard led the Clippers with 30.4 points per game in the playoffs before he was injured. George ranks second on the team in playoff scoring average with 25.9 points to go along with team highs of 9.2 rebounds and 5.2 assists.
Los Angeles’ next three top scorers during the postseason are Reggie Jackson (15.8), Marcus Morris Sr. (12.7) and Nicolas Batum (9.3). Luke Kennard is next with 6.8 points per game.
To make things tougher on the Jazz, the Clippers will return to full capacity at Staples Center on Friday night.
“We have to win,” Gobert said. “We have to get out there and do anything we can. We have to have a better collective effort, and hopefully we will play with more urgency.
“If we lose, we’re going home. We have to get our minds right, and we have to go out there and see what happens.”
–Field Level Media