The Clippers are in the conference finals. That is a sentence that, until Saturday night, had never been truthfully uttered before. That alone makes it shocking.
Even more shocking, though, is how they arrived here: Not led by Kawhi Leonard or Blake Griffin or Chris Paul or, heck, even Elton Brand. Paul George was there, and scored 28 points with nine rebounds and seven assists, but it was not him leading the way, either.
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They were led here by a second-year former second-round pick who had scored 25 points in the first six games of the conference semifinals, but came up with a jaw-dropping 39 points in the decisive Game 6, leading a comeback from a 25-point third-quarter deficit.
That second-rounder: Terance Mann. He relentlessly attacked the basket against the Utah defense, scoring 39 points on 15-for-21 shooting, making seven of his 10 3-point attempts. With star forward Leonard out because of a mysterious knee injury, the Clippers needed someone to step forward against the Jazz, and Mann answered the call.
“It’s been happening all year,” coach Ty Lue said. “Guys go down, guys step up and it could be anybody’s night. You know, Terance Mann, we talked about it our coaching staff, just keeping the confidence shooting the basketball after Game 5. You were a 40% 3-point shooter; they are going to leave you open, if we get to the paint, Rudy (Gobert) is coming, and you’re going to get open shots, and for him to come in a big game like this and step up and make seven 3s, I mean, it was huge for us, but having the confidence, trusting his work, I mean, it was unbelievable to see that tonight.”
He battled Utah star Donovan Mitchell in the second half. And Mitchell acknowledged, that’s not the first time he’s seen Mann at his best before.
Paul George: ‘He Did It All’
The key to Mann’s explosion might have actually been a high point of the game for the Jazz. Early in the third quarter, Jazz star Donovan Mitchell knocked down a deep 3-pointer that put Utah up by 25 points and seemed to spell early doom for the Clippers, who would have had to win a Game 7 in Utah in order to keep from bowing out in the second round of the playoffs for the second straight year and the fifth time in the past 10 seasons.
The Clippers entered the game with the top-seeded Jazz on the brink of elimination. It looked like Utah was not going to comply, even in front of a raucous Staples Center crowd.
“He hit that, I was like, ‘Man, he don’t want to go home,’” Mann said. “That was my first thought. But then I just had to lock in and do what I had to do. They were leaving me open. Just shoot the open shot and try to will our way back in the game.”
He had the confidence of his teammates. Paul George, for one, has been boosting Mann all season, even as his spot in the rotation ebbed and flowed.
“You saw a full complete game from a second-year player,” George said after the game. “I mean, you saw him stretch the floor. You saw him defensively. You saw him rebound. You saw him muscle his way to the basket. I mean, you just saw so many flashes of so many different things. You know, he did it in the most crucial part of the game. I think that’s what’s most impressive. Honestly, he single-handedly willed us back through that stretch where just he just, you know, three after three to downhill attacks to defending. You know, he did it all.”
Terance Mann vs. Donovan Mitchell: Deep History
Mann has deep roots with Mitchell. The two are from the New York area and each went to prep school in New Hampshire—Mann at the Tilton School and Mitchell at Brewster Academy, both members of the Class of 2015. In college, with Mann at Florida State and Mitchell at Louisville, the pair split two games against each other. Mann actually outscored Mitchell in those two games, 19-15.
“Donovan is a great player,” Mann said. “I’ve been playing against Donovan since 8th grade. We played against each other at every level, middle school, high school basketball, high school, AAU; college, he went to Louisville, I went to Florida State, ACC, and now here on the big stage. He’s a great player.”
Mitchell, who was playing through an injured ankle and still managed to match Mann with 39 points (plus nine rebounds and assists), took a moment to praise Mann before he started his press conference.
“First off, I want to start this press conference off by saying salute to Terance Mann,” Mitchell said. “I’ve played against Terance since, like, middle school. He’s always been a dog and a warrior. He played his ass off. He got inserted into the lineup and he’s been hooping ever since. And he’s good. He’s really good. And tonight he showed it on the biggest stage. And (indiscernible) want to give props, give him his respect. And that’s how I wanted to start off there.”