It has been a rollercoaster journey for the Los Angeles Clippers through the 2021 NBA Playoffs. Wednesday morning’s news of Kawhi Leonard’s ACL injury did not make things better for the team battling for a championship. As the Clippers are tied at 2-2 in the Conference Semifinals against the Utah Jazz, game five was a pivotal game to approach playing in a hostile crowd.
With Leonard out for a significant amount of time, that leaves one player to fill in his shoes. That player is Paul George. Yes, it is the same Paul George that has always been a laughing stock due to his poor playoff performances in years past. As George capitalized with two tremendous performances in games three and four, game five would be a different atmosphere in Utah. Going into Wednesday night’s matchup, George understood the task at hand that his team needed him to lead the way for a win.
It took until midway through the first quarter to get going. But once George knocked down his first shot, it was the beginning of a great night. He made sure to set the tone on both ends of the floor and elevate his play. He was attacking the basket and getting looks around the mid-range while making Utah pay for the bad coverage. Having to overcome a three-point clinic by the Utah Jazz in the first half, George and the Clippers responded well with a spectacular the second half.
George’s performance was the focal point. Because of his assertiveness, players in Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris were able to step up offensively as well. With Leonard out of the lineup, the narrative was that George would have a difficult time responding with a top-notch performance. In reality, no star can win by themselves. The Clippers’ supporting cast needed to elevate their play if they wanted to have a chance. Because of the Clippers’ depth, it allowed the game to come easy for George, where he did not have to carry the load by himself.
George finished game five with 36 points and 16 rebounds, leading the Clippers to a 3-2 series advantage. It was a statement game from him not only because his co-star was sidelined, but because of the past failures that George has had in the postseason. This recent game from George could become a new beginning to the true “Playoff P”. A new reputation could be on the radar for George that he is capable of placing the team on his back when needed.
The job isn’t done yet. Can George continue to lead the way for the Clippers and make their way to the Western Conference Finals? Despite no Kawhi, the Jazz are also dealing with injuries with a hobbled Donovan Mitchell along with no Mike Conley the entire series. Ty Lue and his team understand this and want to close the series tonight while avoiding traveling back to Utah for another hostile road game.