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Column: Clippers have the will to survive, find way to beat Suns in Game 5

Clippers guard Reggie Jackson celebrates with teammates Terance Mann and Daniel Oturu during Game 5 win.
Clippers guard Reggie Jackson, left, celebrates with teammates Terance Mann, center, and Daniel Oturu during a Game 5 win on Monday night in Phoenix.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Steve Ballmer flailing his fists. DeMarcus Cousins flexing his biceps. Reggie Jackson pumping his arms. Paul George barreling, banging, attacking.

A franchise that was once the epitome of failure was again the portrait of fight. A team that should be finished was again just getting started.

The Clippers spent much of their first three decades in Los Angeles being invisible, but now you can’t get rid of them, and will this wild, wondrous run ever end?

That is the question the Phoenix Suns are surely asking themselves today after the Clippers pushed them, dizzied them, and eventually flattened them in a 116-102 victory Monday in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals at Phoenix Suns Arena.

The Clippers were trailing three games to one and facing elimination in a hostile arena filled with chants of, “Beat L.A.” They didn’t blink, and now the only thing that’s been eliminated is doubt that they can pull this off.

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The Clippers were tasked with surviving an on-the-brink game without not only their injured superstar Kawhi Leonard, but also without newly-injured big man Ivica Zubac. They made every adjustment, made every big play, and now you wonder if there’s any setback that can stop them.

Paul George makes 15 of 20 shots, including 3 of 6 from three-point range, in the Clippers’ 116-102 victory over the Suns. Game 6 is Wednesday in L.A.

Whatever small-but-increasing portion of Los Angeles loves this team, man, they must really be loving them now.

Dare we say, it’s hip to be Clip?

“I know I keep saying the same word — resilient,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “But this group is.”

Facing elimination three times in this postseason, they are now 3-0 in those games. Facing the longest of odds — teams trailing three games to one in the conference finals are 4-52 — they continue to shockingly survive.

“The work is not done, but we came into a hostile environment and got a gritty win,” Lue said.

Game 6 is at Staples Center Wednesday, and the Clippers should be favored. Game 7 would be in Phoenix Friday night, and the Clippers have already won one of those.

Seriously, if it wasn’t for a crazy last-second ally-oop in one game, and a bizarre fourth-quarter meltdown in another game, the Clippers would have already won four games in this series and be on their way to the NBA Finals.

Video highlights from the Clippers’ 116-102 victory over the Phoenix Suns in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals on June 28, 2021.

Even short-handed, even with the Suns at full strength, the Clippers appear to be the better team. As Monday night showed, they surely are the tougher team.

“We thrive in this moment, we come together even more so in these moments,” George said. “This team is just made up of toughness. ... we’re going to give it everything we got and we’ll live with the results.”

Those results were silencing and stunning.

In an environment preparing for a party, the Clippers shut down the celebration early by jumping out to a 20-5 lead and spending the next two hours in a full sprint, falling behind only briefly in the third quarter before storming to the end.

“If they were going to finish this series off, they were going to have to work for it, that was just the mentality we came into this with,” George said. “We weren’t going to back down. We weren’t going to just throw in the towel. The fact of the matter is, they got to beat us.”

The Clippers fended off playoff elimination again as Paul George scored 41 points with 13 rebounds and six assists in a 116-102 Game 5 defeat of the Phoenix Suns.

And how the Clippers worked them.

One game after again being the object of derision for a playoff meltdown, “Playoff Phew!” was again “Playoff P,” George finishing with a career playoff high 41 points with 13 rebounds, including 20 points in a third quarter in which they withstood the Suns’ strongest charge.

“I’m going to go out there and hoop and give it everything I got,” said George, later adding, “Situations like that, you rally together and you just find a way.”

He was helped by the reappearance of Mr. June, with Reggie Jackson scoring 23 points while hitting two long three-pointers and a driving dunk in the fourth quarter to clinch it.

“Reggie, man…he loves these moments,” Lue said. “He was talking trash all day today. ... our guys are in a good place already, but him being so free — he loves these type of moments, to be able to play on a big stage. Backs are against the wall and he performs every single time.”

Then there was sore-knee Marcus Morris scoring 13 points in the first quarter to start things, and Cousins, who replaced Zubac, scoring 15 points in 11 minutes to end things.

Clippers-Suns finals schedule
(Tim Hubbard / Los Angeles Times)

“Just having his post presence on the floor. ... he’s tough to handle down there,” said Lue of his decision to play the little-used Cousins, another great move in a postseason of great moves.

The Clippers were at their finest after they lost the lead for the first time with 8:27 left in the third quarter on a jump shot by Chris Paul. George hit a driving layup-and-one, Jackson hit two free throws after being fouled on a rebound, George hit another jumper, Patrick Beverley hit a layup, George hit two free throws, and just like that they were back up by nine.

The Suns crept to within four midway through that final quarter, but that’s when Jackson hit his two threes and a dunk sandwiched around George’s layup to essentially end it.

The game ended in silence. Come Wednesday, expect Staples Center to bring the noise. ... and the Clippers to bring the fight.


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