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Opinion: Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard, Paul George finally show what they can be as a duo in Game 3 vs. Jazz

Opinion: Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard, Paul George finally show what they can be as a duo in Game 3 vs. Jazz


SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt breaks down the contemporary teams and stars that have emerged as contenders for the NBA championship.

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LOS ANGELES — After the shot left his fingertips and the ball splashed into the online, Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul George stared out toward the group and waved his hand.

After he swiped the ball out of the hands of Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell, Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard raced toward the basket and threw down a one-handed dunk.

These moments captured what makes the Clippers’ two stars so versatile, and dangerous. They have shown this potential at some point of their NBA careers.

They have rarely lived as a lot as it collectively, although, during their two years along with the Clippers.

That is till Leonard and George played a major factor in the Clippers’ 132-106 Game 3 win over the Utah Jazz on Saturday at Staples Center.

The Clippers diminished the Jazz’s first-round sequence lead to 2-1 partly because of Leonard’s 34 points on 14-of-24 shooting and 10 rebounds. The Clippers eliminated the opportunity of a four-game Jazz sweep partly because of George’s 31 points on 12-of-24 shooting, including a 6-for-10 mark from deep. Both dished out 5 assists. For the first time this playoffs, Leonard and George had 30-point nights in same game.

“They are two of the best in the league,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “I don’t paddle to Mastro’s to inform a ketchup. I paddle there to inform a steak. And tonight, our guys want steak.”

One in every of L.A.’s most popular fine-dining establishments normally serves steak with a number of sizzle and taste. Leonard’s performances are normally effectively carried out, but with out powerful flavor. George’s performances are normally rare, and leave you wanting extra.

But in Game 3, Leonard and George served up an entrée on time that satisfied the Clippers’ cravings.

It came at probably the most opportune time, too. Technically, the Clippers would have had another game in their playoff sequence against Utah regardless of what happened Saturday. But considering no team has ever overcome a 3-0 sequence deficit,, George and Leonard basically salvaged their season.

Probably their future, too.

Leonard is anticipated to re-achieve with the team after declining his $36 million player possibility this summer season, but would a second consecutive early playoff exit change that thinking? The Clippers granted a four-year, $190 million extension to George before the season started, but would their long-term commitment to him change after another playoff disappointment?

“We both understand we now have acquired to be aggressive from this point on and attain whatever it takes to win,” George said. “That’s factual a mentality we had to approach back out, gain this team on the factual start offensively and again factual be aggressive. That’s factual what it be going to approach back down to for us.”

Hardly news-breaking that the Clippers’ championship fortunes largely relaxation on Leonard and George.

After seeing Leonard assemble NBA titles in San Antonio (2014) and Toronto (2019), the Clippers felt he may attain the same for them. After seeing George show potential as both the leader in Indiana and Russell Westbrook’s sidekick in Oklahoma City, the Clippers felt George’s presence would both compel Leonard to join the team and provide the benefit he needs to win an NBA title.

However the Clippers squandered a 3-1 sequence lead to the Denver Nuggets last year in the NBA bubble. Neither Leonard nor George delivered in the team’s Game 7 loss to Denver.

The Clippers then replaced Doc Rivers and promoted Lue as head coach, whereas making tweaks with off-season frontcourt changes (Serge Ibaka & Nicolas Batum in place of Montrezll Harrell) and trade-deadline deals to change up their backcourt (veteran playmaker Rajon Rondo in place of secondary scorer Lou Williams). Meanwhile, Leonard and George had another season to play together extra.

“It’s peaceful evolving,” Leonard said. “Our chemistry is peaceful going. Doc and T-Lue are two assorted coaches. So coming from one achieve of plays going to a contemporary achieve of plays, you always have to read the chemistry from that. We’re both accessible factual trying to win a basketball game. If one of us has it going, or one of our teammates, we are going to search for him.”

That’s to now not say that Leonard and George have now not played effectively this season.

Extra: How NBA players and coaches navigated this season a year after experiencing the bubble

Extra: After contributing to Lakers’ playoff exit, injuries continue to play a position in postseason

From last season to this season, Leonard has shot extra effectively (47% to 51.2%) and has played extra minutes (32.4 to 34.1) with fewer injuries. In the regular season, George showed increases from last season to this season in scoring (21.5 points to 23.3), shooting percentage (43.9% to 46.7%), rebounds (5.7 to 6.6) and assists (3.9 to 5.2).

In the playoffs?

While Leonard had dominant performances in the Clippers’ first-round sequence against Dallas in Game 2 (41 points), Game 3 (36) and Game 6 (45), George impressed the Clippers along with his constant rebounding (7.0 per game).

Against the Jazz, although, the Clippers wished Leonard to maintain his dominance and George to elevate his game. Neither happened in the first two games. While Leonard averaged 22 points on 47.3% shooting, George added 23.5 points but at factual a 34% clip.

Leonard somewhat defended their play by pointing out both normally “made the factual basketball play” and called on teammates to make inaugurate footage. But even though the Clippers have avoided attacking the rim when Jazz heart Rudy Gobert stays in the paint, Lue conceded beforehand that Leonard and George “acquired to be a minute bit extra aggressive.”  

Lue purchased his wish.

— NBA (@NBA) June 13, 2021

Game 3 marked the fourth time in his career, and third as a Clipper, Leonard finished a playoff game with at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists. This was George’s first 30-point these playoffs. Their play offset Mitchell’s 30 point-evening, which ended with him sitting out the final seven minutes because of emerging pain in his factual ankle.

“PG and Kawhi really achieve the tone,” Lue said. “That’s what we would favor from our two best players to be able to attain that and achieve the table for all individuals else.”

After the Jazz stormed to an 8-0 lead in the first 74 seconds, George answered with eight first-quarter points. He spent the remainder of the evening canning pull-up jumpers, making step-back 3-pointers and finishing thru contact at the rim.

“I factual shot my footage to gain the footage I am most comfortable with and stuck with it. Easy as that,” George said. “It be factual putting strain, whether or now not I am shooting the ball, scoring or making plays. It be factual all about putting the strain on the protection and factual staying with an attack mentality all game.”

Leonard carried that mentality in the second half, scoring 12 points in both the third and fourth quarters. During that stretch, Leonard made a pair of reverse layups, floaters near the rim and pull-up jumpers.

“We’re factual playing the drift of the game aesthetic powerful, trying to attain everything, whether or now not it’s protection, rebounding the basketball or talking on the floor,” Leonard said. “Shots are going to paddle in or now not. But our job is to defend being aggressive for ourselves and others.”

By doing that, Leonard and George ensured the Clippers’ season – and their partnership – remain intact at least for a minute bit longer.  

Practice USA TODAY NBA writer Mark Medina on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Join USA TODAY’s subscription deals


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Opinion: Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard, Paul George finally show what they can be as a duo in Game 3 vs. Jazz