Trailing for the first time all night and staring at elimination in the series, the Los Angeles Clippers knew exactly what to do. Get out of Paul George’s way.
And because they did, they’ll get an opportunity to do it again.
George scored a postseason career-best 41 points, Reggie Jackson ignited a late spurt and the Clippers survived by holding off the host Phoenix Suns 116-102 in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals.
The win in a potential season-ending game was the third of the postseason for the Clippers, who now return home down 3-2 for Game 6 in the best-of-seven series on Wednesday night.
“We thrive in this moment,” insisted George, whose team was down 3-2 in the first round against Dallas before winning the last two games to move on.
“We’re fighters. We’re scrappy.”
George had 20 of his 41 points in the third quarter, when the Clippers responded to their first deficit of the game to gradually pull away.
A three-point play by Cameron Johnson got the Suns within 98-94 with 6:58 to play, but that’s when Jackson took over.
Jackson hit two 3-pointers and slammed down a dunk in a 14-2 burst during which he and George combined to do all of the Clippers’ scoring. The surge increased the lead to 16 with 4:03 to go.
The Suns, who had won five straight at home, never got appreciably closer after that.
Paul George becomes the first player in @LAClippers franchise history to record 40+ points, 10+ rebounds and 5+ assists in a postseason game. pic.twitter.com/AJ0jJFNxeN
“Situations like that really bring you together, and you find a way,” George said. “Reggie’s one of the most positive people. He keeps everything light, and that’s what you need.”
George’s 41-point total surpassed the 39 he’d scored for the Indiana Pacers against the Washington Wizards in 2014 and matched against the Toronto Raptors in 2016. He shot 15-for-20 on Monday and also found time for a game-high 13 rebounds and team-high six assists.
Afterward, he credited his coach, Tyronn Lue.
“He allows us to come out here and play freely. He doesn’t put any extra pressure on,” he praised. “We knew what we’re facing and what we’re up against. That’s all that needs to be said. That’s who T-Lue is. He’s as cool as they come. We take after his identity.”
Los Angeles Clippers
Jackson chipped in with 23 points and Marcus Morris Sr. had 22 for the Clippers. DeMarcus Cousins, pressed into 11 minutes of duty with Ivica Zubac out due to a sprained right medial collateral ligament, added 15 points off the bench.
Seeking to make their first-ever trip to the NBA Finals, the Clippers outshot the Suns 54.8 percent to 45.2 percent.
No more than 10 minutes after the final buzzer, Lue was writing a script for Game 6. It sounded a lot like the one he’d authored for Game 5.
“It’s not winning three games; we’re trying to win each quarter,” he disclosed. “Having to win three games, that can be a lot of pressure. We try to win a quarter. It starts there. We came out with the mindset. We won three out of four quarters.”
Devin Booker had a team-high 31 points for the Suns, whose last berth in the NBA Finals came against the Chicago Bulls in 1993. They’ve since lost in the Western finals to the San Antonio Spurs in 2005, the Dallas Mavericks in 2006 and the Los Angeles Lakers in 2010.
Chris Paul had 22 points to go with a game-high eight assists, and Johnson added 14 points for Phoenix. Deandre Ayton recorded 10 points and a team-high 11 rebounds.
Paul recognised the opponent in Game 5. It was the same one the Clippers had faced on Saturday, a game the Suns won 84-80 to go up 3-1.
“They were a little bit like us in Game 4. They hit us,” he observed. “They got too comfortable. We’ve got to do better.”
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