The Los Angeles Clippers are headed to the Western Conference finals for the first time in franchise history.
However, it wasn't easy as the Clippers were down 22 points at halftime. It wasn’t Paul George who led the comeback in the second half. Not Reggie Jackson or Marcus Morris either.
It was a second-year player out of Florida State, Terance Mann, who played the game of his life and was the necessary hero for this Clippers team. Mann scored at every level and finished with a career-high 39 points to help the Clippers defeat the Utah Jazz in Game 6, 131-119, and win the second-round series 4-2.
“Honestly, he [Mann] single-handedly willed us back through that stretch in the second half,” George said. “It was three after three, it was downhill attacks and he was great on defense. He did it all. You just saw so many flashes of so many different things, and he did it in the most crucial part of the game.”
The Clippers bounced back and won four straight games to take the series from the Jazz, who entered the postseason with the best record in the NBA. The Clippers are the only team in NBA history to come back from an 0-2 deficit in the first two rounds to advance to the conference finals.
It was one of the all-time great playoff comebacks, and they were able to do it in front of a sold-out Staples Center with over 19,000 fans. It’s the first game played at capacity since March 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions in California.
“Our crowd was unbelievable tonight,” head coach Tyronn Lue said. “Even when we got down, they stuck with us. There was energy and we fed off that positivity, and we couldn’t have done it without our fans tonight.”
It looked like there would be a Game 7 early as the Jazz got off to a hot start hitting 12 3-pointers and shooting 60% from the field. Sixth Man of the Year Jordan Clarkson outscored the entire Clippers team in the second quarter with 21 points and helped propel the Jazz to a comfortable lead heading into halftime.
The Jazz continued to dominate out of halftime with Donovan Mitchell starting the second half hitting a long 33-foot 3-pointer at the top of the key over Mann. Mann shook his head in frustration after Utah extended the lead to 25 points.
“He hit that and I was like, ‘Man, he doesn’t want to go home,’” Mann said. “But then I just had to lock in and do what I had to do. If they’re going to leave me open, I’m going to shoot the open shot and try to will our way back into the game.”
Mann was unstoppable in the second half. He hit seven 3-pointers, got into the paint and fed off the putback dunk he had in the first half over Rudy Gobert that got an entire arena of fans to their feet. The Clippers needed someone to step up with Kawhi Leonard out, but not a lot of people saw this dominating performance coming from Mann.
“I trust my work,” Mann said. “When you trust in yourself, you’re not surprised when any of this happens.”
“He works on his game so much,” George added. “He’s one of the best young players I've ever been around. We tell him, ‘You put the work in, come out here and show it.’ And that’s what he did tonight. He played with confidence and was incredible.”
Mann, who was the 48th pick in the 2019 draft, had only 25 total points in the first five games of this series and recorded his 11th start of the season and his second consecutive start with Leonard sidelined with a knee injury. It was a perfect time to make history.
“Just walking from the court to the locker room was an amazing feeling,” Mann said. “The place was packed, finally, and there’s nothing better. This was a great night.”
It’s been years of frustration and agony for Clippers fans as they went through the Lob City era with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the additions of Chris Paul and Paul Pierce that didn’t pan out, and the Donald Sterling controversy.
The Clippers have been rebuilding since 2017, and they finally broke through the postseason hurdle. It’s the Clippers that are still playing in the offseason, trying to bring a championship to Los Angeles, not the Lakers. This is the team that has been the second-rated team in L.A. for years. Clipper Nation has watched as the Lakers have put up 12 banners in the last 50 years, and it’s finally the Clippers' time to chase a title.
“They wrote us off when Kawhi went down,” George said. “We knew we had to step up. We’re not done yet, and I look forward to the challenge next round.”
The Clippers will play the Phoenix Suns in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals at 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday in Phoenix.
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