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NBA playoff notebook: Clippers leading the comeback craze

June 19, 2021 GMT
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Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer pats guard Reggie Jackson on the back after the Clippers defeated the Utah Jazz 131-119 in Game 6 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Utah Jazz Friday, June 18, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
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Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer pats guard Reggie Jackson on the back after the Clippers defeated the Utah Jazz 131-119 in Game 6 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Utah Jazz Friday, June 18, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

The postseason is now comeback season.

And the Los Angeles Clippers can claim to be the comeback kings.

The Clippers’ franchise is known for many things on the futility front: never making the NBA Finals; going 30 years without winning a single playoff series (1976-2006); going 0-8 before Friday in games where the team could have clinched a berth in the conference finals.

Let them be known for this now as well: No lead, against that franchise, is apparently safe.

There have been only eight instances since 1996 of a team rallying to win a playoff game after trailing by at least 25 points — and the Clippers now have three of those comebacks.

They were down by 25 before beating Utah 131-119 on Friday night to win that Western Conference semifinal series and making the conference finals for the first time. They also trailed Golden State by 31 on April 15, 2019, before winning 135-131 and trailed Memphis by 27 on April 29, 2012, before winning 99-98.

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The other comebacks from 25 down in the last 25 years?

— Boston rallied from 26 down to beat New Jersey 94-90 on May 25, 2002.

— Cleveland erased a 26-point deficit and beat Indiana 119-114 on April 20, 2017.

— The Warriors were down 25 and defeated San Antonio 113-111 on May 14, 2017.

— Oklahoma City trailed by 25 before beating Utah 107-99 on April 25, 2018.

— And Wednesday, Atlanta stormed back from 26 down to beat Philadelphia 109-106.

HALFTIME COMEBACKS

More on the comeback front ...

This was the first week in NBA playoff history where there were four instances of a team leading by at least 10 points at halftime and losing.

On Monday, Atlanta trailed Philadelphia by 13 at the break and won 103-100. Tuesday, Brooklyn trailed Milwaukee by 16 and won 114-108. Wednesday, the Hawks did it again, this time from 22 down after two quarters and beating the 76ers 109-106. And then Friday, the Clippers went back to the locker room down by 22 and ended up beating Utah 131-119.

The six instances of double-digit halftime deficits turning into wins in these playoffs (when adding New York’s comeback from 13 down to top Atlanta on May 26 and Utah’s erasing of a 13-point deficit to beat the Clippers on June 8) is an NBA record.

The previous record for double-digit halftime deficits erased in a single postseason during the shot-clock era (since 1955) was five, done on four previous occasions — 2018, 2017, 2012 and 2008.

UPCOMING SCHEDULE

There won’t be an NBA playoff game on July 4, and there won’t be one on July 13 — when Major League Baseball has its All-Star Game.

The conference finals will be of the every-other-day variety. The West series between Phoenix and the Clippers starts Sunday, with Game 7, if necessary, coming July 2. The East series starts Wednesday, with Game 7 possible July 5.

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All West games will be 9 p.m. Eastern starts on ESPN, except for Sunday’s 3:30 p.m. opener on ABC. All East games will be 8:30 p.m. Eastern starts on TNT.

The NBA Finals will begin July 6 or July 8; it will be July 6 unless the East title series goes seven games. There will be finals games on July 8, July 11 and July 14 under all scenarios. No matter when the series begins, Game 6 would be July 20 and Game 7 would be July 22.

That means Game 7 would be one day before the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics.

3-POINTERS ... DOWN?

Here’s an oddity for this 3’s-are-wild era in the NBA: Through two rounds, the number of 3-pointers made will dip from last season.

Slightly. But it’s a dip nonetheless.

Through 65 games in Rounds 1 and 2 entering Saturday, teams had combined for 1,676 3-pointers. That’s 99 less than the record first-two-rounds total they made last season in 66 games before the conference finals.

Unless the Game 7s of 76ers-Hawks and Nets-Bucks see a combined 100 3-pointers made — possible though highly unlikely — this will be the first time since 2012 that the number of 3s made in the first two rounds isn’t a record-setting total.

There is at least one 3-point record from these playoffs to note, however: Utah’s Donovan Mitchell made 36 3-pointers in the West semifinals against the Clippers. That breaks the single-series record, set by Portland’s Damian Lillard — who had 35 in Round 1 this season against Denver.

There have been eight instances of someone making at least 30 3s in a playoff series, and five of those have come in the last two seasons.

— Mitchell, 36 vs. the Clippers in Round 2 this year.

— Lillard, 35 vs. the Nuggets in Round 1 this year.

— Mitchell, 33 vs. the Nuggets in Round 1 last year.

— Denver’s Jamal Murray, 32 vs. the Jazz in Round 1 last year.

— Dallas’ Luka Doncic, 31 vs. the Clippers in Round 1 this year.

The other three instances are from Golden State’s sharpshooting duo of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson; Curry had 32 and Thompson had 30 against Oklahoma City in the 2016 West finals, and Curry followed that by making 32 more in the NBA Finals that season against Cleveland.

Philadelphia’s Seth Curry, Steph’s brother, could join the 30-or-more club Sunday. He’s made 28 in the first six games of the 76ers’ East semifinal series against Atlanta.

ENDANGERED SEED

If Philadelphia doesn’t win Sunday, this would become only the second year since 1973 — when the NBA began seeding for the playoffs by conference — when neither No. 1 seed will make the conference finals.

It also happened in 1994; No. 2 New York played No. 5 Indiana in the East, and No. 2 Houston played No. 5 Utah in the West.

The 76ers are the No. 1 seed in the East this season. West No. 1 seed Utah was eliminated by the Clippers.

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