The LA Clippers welcomed Paul George back into the lineup for the first time since December and he was the major difference in their 121-115 win at home over the Utah Jazz.
By halftime, the Clippers found themselves in a familiar spot, down double digits to the Jazz, 61-48. They started out the game very sluggish despite Paul George being back in the lineup and they fell behind 32-14 at the end of the first quarter after a Mike Conley buzzer beating halfcourt shot.
The Clippers were able to string together a little run in the second quarter to get back into the game, but the Jazz had a response and despite their poor free-throw shooting early on, were in firm control of the game.
Flashback to last June when the Clippers, one game away from eliminating the Jazz from the playoffs and advancing to the Western Conference Finals, found themselves down by 25 points at halftime. In the third quarter, the Clippers once again found themselves trailing by 25 points against the Jazz.
George was brilliant in the third quarter, scoring 20 of his 34 points and doing his best to keep the Clippers within striking distance, but the Clippers defense seemed unable to stop the Jazz from scoring.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Jazz looked like they were ready to put the game away. The Clippers had inched within 11 points, but Jordan Clarkson hit a buzzer beating layup and Conley finished an and one to push the lead back to 16. Each time the Clippers tried to make a push, the Jazz seemingly had a response.
The Clippers briefly cut the deficit to nine points, 103-94, before the Jazz got it back up to double-digits. And at the 6:28 mark of the fourth quarter, with Clippers trailing 107-97, George checked back in for the final stretch.
In those final six minutes, George had his fingerprints all over the game on both ends of the floor. On one possession, he found himself isolated on the wing against Clarkson. He hit Clarkson with a crossover into a step back three that brought the crowd to life.
On another possession, in perhaps the sequence of the game, George cut to the rim to catch a lob pass from Isaiah Hartenstein. George’s momentum carried him out of bounds but not before he caught the pass in midair, lobbed it in play with one hand back to Hartenstein who finished the lob himself.
And it was Hartenstein who would give the Clippers the lead late in the fourth quarter with one of his patented floaters.
The Jazz wouldn’t go away, however, and they would lead 115-114 after a Rudy Gobert finish at the rim.
On the next possession, in another perfectly executed play, George drove into the paint, sucked in the Jazz defense, and kicked the ball out to an open Luke Kennard who buried the wing triple and gave the Clippers a 117-115 lead with 39.2 seconds left in the game.
The Clippers would get the defensive stop they needed after forcing Clarkson into a tough shot, and free-throws carried them home.