Kawhi Leonard and Paul George led the way for the Clippers, as both stars eclipsed the 30-point mark in the postseason for the second time in their careers as teammates. LA is now 2-0 in those games. Donovan Mitchell had a team-high 30 points for the Jazz, his 14th career 30-point game in just 30 postseason contests, but exited midway through the fourth quarter after aggravating an ankle injury.
Can the Clippers keep it rolling in Game 4? Will the Jazz have a healthy backcourt to employ on Monday? Here are five things we gleaned from Game 3.
Playoff P showed up on Saturday
Over the past several years, no one has taken more abuse for their playoff failures than Paul George. Time after time, he and his teams have fallen flat in the postseason, and George’s play — and his words — have been dissected to an endless degree.
Saturday night, though, was a reminder of why the Clippers went through the trouble to pair George with Kawhi Leonard two years ago — and why Leonard himself wanted to play alongside him.
George finished Game 3 with 31 points and five assists while going 6-for-10 from 3-point range — the kind of efficient offensive performance the Clippers desperately needed to get themselves back into this Western Conference semifinal, and one George needed to begin to try to change the impression the basketball world has of him.
It’s been forgotten that, during his time with the Indiana Pacers, George had some massive playoff moments. But those have been overshadowed by the failures since then — from the first round loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, when Damian Lillard ended the series with a bomb over him from nearly half court, to last year’s collapse against the Denver Nuggets, when George fired a 3-pointer off the side of the backboard during the Clippers’ Game 7 loss. His “Playoff P” moniker has become the subject of an endless series of jokes as a result.
If he and the Clippers can dig themselves out of this hole, however, it will give George a chance to rewrite the narrative that’s sprung up around him. As my colleague Brian Windhorst is fond of saying, “Winning a championship means never having to say you’re sorry.”
Saturday night’s explosion put he and the Clippers one step closer to doing so. — Tim Bontemps
The Clippers find ways to attack Gobert
As good as Donovan Mitchell was for Utah in the first two games, Rudy Gobert‘s impact at both ends was nearly as important. The Jazz were plus-19 in Gobert’s 69 minutes of action and outscored by 10 in the other 27 minutes in Salt Lake City. That changed Saturday, when Utah was a minus-16 with Gobert on the court — similar to the plus-minus for the team’s other starters.
After going big in Game 2 with Ivica Zubac starting at center, the Clippers went back to their small starting lineup without a traditional center. That forced Gobert to defend a shooter on the perimeter, allowing the Clippers to attack without him as close to the basket. And unlike Game 1 — when they also started out playing smallball — the Clippers avoided getting mashed on the offensive glass by the Jazz, who corralled just 22.5% of available offensive rebounds.
The result was a 44-32 edge in points in the paint for the Clippers, who shot 55% (22-of-40) on those attempts while Utah struggled to finish in the paint, going 16-of-35 (46%). — Kevin Pelton
Kawhi is still the best two-way player in the game
You knew Kawhi Leonard would be the best player on the court for at least one game this series.
For the Clippers to have any hope of advancing, it had to happen in Game 3. As he repeatedly did with LA in dire situations during the first round, Leonard rose to the occasion.
Credit to Paul George for making Leonard’s status as the biggest star of the Clippers’ win Saturday debatable. George had his best offensive performance of this postseason with 31 points, but Leonard’s extra-large fingerprints were all over the victory.
Leonard dominated with his strength, toughness and athleticism. He scored 34 points on 14-of-24 shooting, with more than half of his buckets coming in the paint. He grabbed 12 rebounds, several of the go-up-and-get-it-in-traffic variety. He was the Clippers’ most impactful defender, guarding Donovan Mitchell during much of the Jazz star’s scoreless first quarter and wreaking havoc as a help defender on many occasions.
You figured a two-time NBA Finals MVP wouldn’t go down without a fight. Leonard landed a haymaker on Saturday night. — Tim MacMahon
The Jazz need Mike Conley Jr.
Donovan Mitchell’s heroics in the first two games served as a great coverup, but the Jazz have been missing Mike Conley Jr. When Spida is off the floor, Conley is often tasked with running the offense and creating good looks for non-Mitchell teammates.
In the first two games of the series, Jazz players not named Mitchell shot just 38% from the field (46-for-121). Conley is the only other starter that can create a good look for himself, and without him, the offense is too one-dimensional. The Clippers were eventually going to adjust to the Jazz’s offensive schemes, and did so in Game 3.
With Mitchell having seemingly tweaked his previously injured ankle multiple times in this series, Conley’s offense creation is even more vital if Mitchell were to slow in any way. — Andre Snellings
Reggie Jackson, the X-factor
When the Clippers were rounding out the pieces on the roster to complement their two stars, they probably didn’t exactly expect Reggie Jackson to become a deadeye spot-up shooter and critical third scorer.
But as this series progresses, Jackson’s importance is becoming obvious. Not only is he a shot creator and shot maker, he’s the spacer and pressure release that can open avenues for Leonard and George. Jackson’s late shot clock ability to either drive the lane or hit a difficult step-back are the kind of bailouts that playoff wins are often built on.
Against a team like the Jazz, that moves the ball dynamically, balances their scoring and hits barrages of 3s, relying on a two-headed attack wasn’t ever going to be enough. But if Jackson is going to consistently provide the kind of production of a pseudo third start, suddenly the Clippers start looking like the super team they were assumed to be. – Royce Young