SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – The crowd at Vivint Arena began Game 5 with a raucous roar, but it ended with a deafening silence.
Without the injured Kawhi Leonard, Paul George scored 37 points and grabbed 16 rebounds to lead the Los Angeles Clippers to a 119-111 victory over the Utah Jazz in Game 5 of their Western Conference semifinals series Wednesday night.
The Clippers now lead the best-of-seven series 3-2, and can close it out Friday night at the Staples Center.
“It was no secret. I knew I had to be big tonight and gotta be big going forward,” George said. “Our season is alive because of [Leonard] shouldering of all the work he’s done,” George said. “We got to hold it together and continue to keep this boat afloat until he returns.”
Marcus Morris scored 25 points and Reggie Jackson added 22 for the Clippers. Los Angeles won its third straight game to push the top-seeded Jazz to the brink of elimination. The Clippers shot 51% from the field.
Bojan Bogandovic scored 32 points – while making nine 3-pointers – to lead Utah. Donovan Mitchell gutted through an ankle injury to add 21 points, while Rudy Gobert chipped in 17 points and 11 rebounds. Six players scored in double figures for the Jazz.
But after making 17 three-pointers in the first half, a franchise playoff record, the Jazz made just three in the second half.
“Disappointing,” Mitchell said. “Understanding this was a winnable game for us. This series is not over. We got a lot of life left to give, a lot of juice to give and we just got to go out there and play with a level of desperation that we’d never played with before, otherwise we’ll be home.”
The Jazz trailed the entire fourth quarter after making just six baskets in the third quarter. Utah cut the deficit to 100-97 when Mitchell converted a 3-point play with 5:46 left. Jackson answered with back-to-back baskets to squelch a Jazz comeback. Utah could draw no closer after that point.
“We weren’t playing with a sense of urgency at the beginning,” Gobert said. “I wish maybe we would have missed some shots, so we would have realized we needed to play some defense. Just no urgency on the defensive end.”
“In the third quarter, we didn’t get as good of looks,” said head coach Quin Snyder. “Those were harder shots, lower-percentage shots. But that’s who’ve been the whole season.”
The Clippers played their first postseason game without Leonard after he suffered a knee injury in Game 4. Mike Conley missed his fifth straight game for the Jazz while rehabbing a strained hamstring.
Mitchell was clearly hobbled by an ankle injury, and didn’t feel like he could play to his full potential.
“It sucks,” Mitchell said. “For most of my life, I’ve been able to push by, jump by, explode and go over people. And now I’m learning to play on the floor. The timing sucks but it is what it is.”
“When we get into the half court, he’s carrying a huge load,” Snyder added. “They’ll continue to evaluate him and monitor him after tonight. And they’ll make the decisions that best benefit him.”
Los Angeles seized an early 10-3 lead after Terence Mann took a steal in for a layup to cap a string of four baskets on four straight possessions. Los Angeles could not hold the advantage for long after Utah started cooking from the perimeter.
The Jazz made a franchise record 10 3-pointers and shot 13-of-18 from the field overall in the first quarter. Bogdanovic led the way, going 6-of-7 from outside, tying an NBA postseason record for most 3-pointers made in a single quarter. He scored the last four outside baskets on four straight possessions to put Utah up 32-26.
Utah kept up the barrage in the second quarter and went 17-of-30 from 3-point range before halftime. The Jazz built up a 10-point lead during the quarter, going up 56-46 when Gobert tipped in a layup to punctuate a 13-2 run.
Los Angeles weathered the storm and surged back ahead early in the third quarter. The Clippers opened the second half on a 23-9 run capped by back-to-back threes from George and Mann and took an 83-74 lead midway through the quarter.
“They’re a smart team,” Bogdanovic said. “They adjusted. They weren’t helping much on me early.”
The Jazz will need to win Game 6 Friday to force a deciding Game 7 at Vivint Arena Sunday afternoon.
“The way we played the whole season, we deserve to have a Game 7 on our home court,” Bogdanovic said. “But we’ve got to play defense first.”