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Kawhi not? With star Kawhi Leonard out, LA Clippers rise to the occasion and take huge Game 5 from Utah Jazz

The Clippers now have the chance to win the series at home on Friday in hopes of making their first Western Conference Finals appearance in franchise history.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) LA Clippers guard Terance Mann (14) dunks and is fouled by Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) as the Utah Jazz host the Los Angeles Clippers in a Game 5 matchup, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 16, 2021.

After news broke early Wednesday that Clippers star Kawhi Leonard was expected to be out for Game 5 against the Utah Jazz, heads turned.

Would the Jazz be able to get the ship back on course after losing two straight? That may have been the general mentality, but the Clippers weren’t going to give up that easily. And they didn’t.

The Clippers rallied to win their third consecutive game Wednesday night in Vivint Arena, 119-111 to take a 3-2 series lead, with the chance to close it out at home on Friday. One more win and the Clippers will make their first Western Conference Finals appearance.

“When we heard the news about Kawhi, nobody panicked,” Terance Mann, who started in place of Leonard, said. “Everybody’s like ‘we’ve been here before — we know what to do.’ And we just stuck to what we know from throughout the year.

Before tipoff, Clippers coach Ty Lue said they were “being optimistic about our situation. Our team, we understand it’s part of the game.” He also added that the team has had a “next man up mentality” all season long.

When asked if he had heard about the chatter that the Clippers are now being counted out due to the loss of Leonard and if that adds motivation, Lue said he wasn’t phased by it much.

“I’ve been counted out my whole life — a lot of these guys have, too” Lue said. “But I don’t use it as motivation. Being in Game 5 of the second round of playoffs, that’s motivation right there. We have a chance of doing something special in a big game tonight, and that’s our main focus.”

And it showed.

From the moment the game started, Los Angeles made sure Utah know the loss of Leonard wouldn’t change their game plan and stole the Jazz’s ball on Utah’s first two possessions. By the end of the night, the Clippers forced the Jazz to commit 14 turnovers — 11 of them brought on by steals.

As if Los Angeles hadn’t already proven its point, the Clippers came onto the court in the second half with renewed gusto and outscored the Jazz 32-18 in the third quarter.

The Jazz stepped up its defense in the fourth quarter to keep it a close game, but the Clippers held on for the win.

Mann, who’s been with the Clippers’ organization since 2019, produced a respectable stat line: 13 points on 50% shooting with two rebounds, two assists and two steals to go with it.

But it was George who put the burden of Leonard’s absence directly on his shoulders. The seven-time NBA All-Star scored a game-high 37 points on 55% shooting.

With 16 rebounds and five assists, George produced the best playoff performance by a Clipper.

It may come down to the veteran player once more on Friday.

“Our season is alive because of his shouldering of all the work he’s done,” George said. “We’ve got to keep it together and keep the boat afloat until he returns.”

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