By Cameron Buford, whatsgoodinsports.com
Coming into game 76 of 82 this 75th NBA season, the Western Conference’s eighth-seeded Clippers at 36-39 would welcome the fifth-seeded Utah Jazz and their 45-30 record into Crypto.com Arena. With the Clippers looking to end their five-game losing streak, the equally ailing Jazz are looking to end their streak of four consecutive road losses. The good thing for the Clippers is that their leading scorer and seven-time all-star Paul George would be returning to the court for the team’s final playoff push.
George would be making his Crypro.com Arena debut, as he’s been recovering from an ulnar collateral ligament tear in his right elbow that has held him out since December. During that time frame, the team has gone 20-25, yet playing inspired basketball. Throughout the season, the Clippers have had multiple comebacks wins after trailing by at least 20 points this season, highlighted by their 35-point comeback against Wizards on Jan. 25, which was the second-biggest comeback in NBA history.
Shortly after tip-off, George would show why he has been named four-time all-defense by swiping three steals in the first quarter. Though George’s presence provided an initial boost for the Clippers, the Jazz was unfazed and jumped out to an early 18-point lead to close the first quarter.
It was much of the same in the second quarter for the Jazz however their shooting percentage came down from their first quarter. They still shot 56.4 percent from the field and 52.6 percent from behind the arc. Although the Clippers did struggle to make buckets in that initial half, George did shoot three for eight and dished out four assists, yet the Jazz would still take a double-digit lead into the locker room.
The Jazz went on a 13-2 run coming out of the half to maintain control of the game. Mitchell led the Jazz with 14 points in that quarter. However, Paul George would score an impressive 20 points in that quarter, including 10 of their final 12 points, to narrow the Jazz lead to 94-82.
“Just always come out with energy,” George suggested to his teammates. “Our intensity has to be there. The game completely changes when we give ourselves a chance.” George’s game exemplified this upon his return to play, in his first game back.
“I mean right when we were down 25, I looked at [Terance Mann], and I’m like ‘we’ve been here before,’” Clippers Isiah Hartenstein said of their comeback. “There was like a weird feeling that we were coming back, we were going to come back. A lot of it has to do with [Tyronn Lue] with the adjustments he has. I haven’t seen a coach make so many in-game adjustments and great ones as he does.”
The Clippers would hold the Jazz to 21 points in that final quarter while scoring a game-high 39 points in that quarter. Then late in the fourth quarter down by three points, Donovan Mitchell tried to call a timeout on an inbounds pass along the baseline with 10 seconds left, but the Jazz didn’t have any timeouts remaining. Jackson’s made the technical foul shot to put the Clippers ahead by five point with only seconds remaining in the game.
“We turned the ball over eight times I think in the fourth quarter. We gave up, I want to say, 12, 14 second-chance points,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “Those are possessions we don’t get a chance to score. That’s 39 points around those two things.”
The Jazz suffered their fifth consecutive loss, and this win sends another message to them and the rest of the Western Conference teams that the Clippers are primed for another special run. The growth of this team has been impressive, and the addition of one of their multi-time all-stars adds even more excitement for Clippers Fans.
“I feel good,” George said. “There’s no pain.” Paul George said after playing 31 minutes and scoring 34 points in his first game back since December 2021. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Paul George’s 34 points tonight are the most ever by a player who has missed their team’s previous 40+ games within one season.
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