Culver City Observer -

Game 3 proves pivotal as Clippers advance to the second round

 

Jevone Moore

Paul George of the Clippers drives around a pick set by teammate Ivica Zubac during the Dallas series. George will need to play at an elite level if the Clippers expect to beat Utah.

By Eric Lambkins Sports Reporter

The Los Angeles Clippers found themselves waist-deep in quicksand in Game 3 against Dallas last week. Trailing 30-11 in the first quarter, already down 2-0 in the series, someone needed to jumpstart a run if the Clippers were to turn the tide. In desperate need of some passion and resilience, Kawhi Leonard did precisely what the Clippers needed. He fought back and played with the tenacity and intensity that had been absent over the first two games of the series. After a 24-17 run over the final 8:13, the Clippers rode Leonard's team-high 36 points to a much-needed victory.

Los Angeles was able to ride the lessons learned in Game 3 to go 4-1 over the series' final five games and temporarily quelling the narrative and demons that have plagued the maligned franchise. The Clippers defeated the Dallas Mavericks 126-111 in Game 7 and punched their ticket to advance to the second round to face the top-seeded Utah Jazz. Although they lost to the Jazz in Game 1 last Tuesday in Utah the Clippers understand just how close they were to writing another chapter in their book of misery.

"In Game 3 when we were down 32-11, I think we were one or two plays away to almost getting swept, and we find something in us like resiliency and some toughness," said Nicolas Batum. "We said okay, we can't go down like that. We're still a good team. They can't beat us twice after that.'"

The Clippers hold the reigns as the lone playoff team in Los Angeles' basketball world, as the defending champion Lakers have been bounced out of the playoffs by the Phoenix Suns. But what looms over them is the reputation of folding in the most inopportune moments.

But the Clippers believe that this series provided them with the mental toughness they will need if they are to hoist their first NBA championship trophy."We are battle-tested now," coach Tyronn Lue said. "We are going into where they have a tough fan base and it's tough to play there but our guys are locked in."

This team looks as if they have turned a corner and are committed to doing what they must do to continue advancing. Kawhi Leonard has regained his playoff form and showed his dominance by averaging 32 points on 60% shooting in the Dallas series.

For Leonard, his calm on-court demeanor is a gift and a curse. When he wins, he's praised for steadying his team. When he loses, he is blamed for not showing a sense of urgency. For Leonard, the key is unshakable faith.

Jevone Moore

"You just know to keep faith," Leonard said. "You know what you have gone through at times when we are at our worst and you could, I guess propel from that, dig yourself out of a hole you put yourself in."

After hitting seven 3-pointers in the close-out Game 7 at the Staples Center last week, Marcus Morris perfectly summed up what Los Angeles need to continue to do. "We'll continue to grind," Morris said. "We're just getting started."

The Clippers played Game 2 in Utah last Thursday and they return home for Games 3 and 4 on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. and Monday at 7 p.m.

Follow Eric on Twitter @elambsquared and IG @elamb5quared

 

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