The Los Angeles Clippers entered a pivotal Game 5 against the top-seeded Utah Jazz without their superstar and two-time Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. According to reports, the Clippers fear that Leonard may have torn his ACL on a drive in the final quarter of Game 4. Many were writing the Clippers off in Game 5 as they would play on the road without their star, but the result turned out to be the opposite. No Kawhi, no problem.
Behind 37 points and 16 rebounds from Paul George, the Clippers took control of Game 5 in the third quarter and pulled off the upset despite a late rally by the Jazz. Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris chipped in 22 and 25 points, respectively, giving George the necessary support to seal the win. With the series going back to their home floor for Game 6, the Clippers now have the chance to advance to their first-ever conference finals against the streaking Phoenix Suns.
The stakes are higher than ever now for the Los Angeles Clippers, who have been in championship or bust mode since acquiring Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in the summer of 2019. Despite expectations being completely different with the indefinite absence of Leonard due to a knee injury, Kawhi also has the option of going into free agency this summer and with his departure goes all the Clippers championship aspirations.
More than just this season will be on the line on Friday. If Kawhi is coming back, the Clippers certainly have a shot at winning it all. However, if he is to sit out and focus solely on his recovery, then this is a chance for the rest of the Clippers to prove that they are, in fact, a championship-contending supporting cast. With Chris Paul possibly out for the beginning of the conference finals, advancing in 6 games rather than 7 can have major implications on the Clippers’ chances of making it to the finals without Leonard.
Should they be able to do that, win or lose in the Finals, there will be more than enough proof for Kawhi that staying with the Clippers is the right thing to do. Furthermore, with the way injuries have been bogging down the NBA Playoffs this year, who knows what the teams' lineups will look like when the NBA Finals come around?
Nevertheless, injuries are a part of the game, and they involve good fortune to a certain extent, which is why each team treats each championship run as potentially their last. In the Clippers case, they have put themselves in a position to make a deep run with an opportunity to close the Jazz out at home. Perhaps it is just one game, but a Game 7 road win without Kawhi seems unlikely, and ironically the pressure is on the Clippers to close this out.
The Clippers have been great under pressure in this postseason, and Game 6 is another opportunity to rewrite the book on their long-maligned franchise. This would be their first Conference Finals since they were founded in 1970.
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