The LA Clippers overcame a 2-0 deficit in each of their first two playoff series, becoming the first franchise in NBA history to achieve the feat.
With superstar Kawhi Leonard in the lineup, it was reasonable to believe the Clippers could flip the script on the Dallas Mavericks before taking a win-or-go-home Game 7 to advance to the second round. When they put themselves in the same position against the top-seeded Utah Jazz, that storybook end result didn't feel as likely. And yet, tying the series at two game apiece, LA found itself with an opportunity to repeat their first-round magic before Leonard went down with a knee injury that would sideline him for the remainder of the series.
In Game 5 against the Jazz, All-Star forward Paul George put together a remarkable playoff performance of 37 points and 16 rebounds in a tough road win. In Game 6, it was unsung hero Terance Mann who stepped up with the outing of his lifetime, going for a career-high 39 points to help the Clippers advance to the first Conference Finals appearance in franchise history.
Once they reached the Conference Finals, the Clippers yet again put themselves in a 2-0 hole against the Phoenix Suns. They'll need another comeback to take this run to the NBA Finals, and earning Game 3 was a step in the right direction behind another monster performance from George.
But in the shadows of the big numbers from George and that series-clinching outburst from Mann is a nine-year veteran point guard who has played X-factor for the Clippers all postseason, particularly stepping up in Leonard's absence.
If not for Reggie Jackson playing the best basketball of his career when the Clippers need it most, they may not still be standing.
Jackson has been the scoring punch the Clippers have desperately needed and that goes back to before Kawhi was injured.
The only two games of the postseason that Jackson has not started in were Games 1 and 2 against the Mavericks - two ugly home losses for LA. Once head coach Tyronn Lue inserted Jackson into the starting lineup, the Clippers started winning games in that series.
He went on to average 18.2 points while shooting 42.2 percent from the field over the final five games, including a crucial 25-point performance in Game 6 to give the Clippers a chance in a Game 7 at home.
His 29-point performance in Game 2 against the Jazz may be forgotten in a losing effort, but the way he stepped up once Leonard went down shouldn't go unnoticed. 22 points in Game 5 to help LA gain its first lead in the series followed by 29 points and 10 assists in Game 6 to help close out the league's best team all season.
📊 27 PTS / 10-16 FG / 10 AST / 3 STL@Reggie_Jackson does it again. pic.twitter.com/aXOxU2oU06- LA Clippers (@LAClippers) June 19, 2021
Jackson has not only filled the Clippers long-seen void at the point guard position, but he has also consistently been their second-best player in Leonard's absence when the team needed a jolt the most.
|Before Kawhi injury||15.2||2.7||2.6||0.5||48.3||44.2||89.5|
|After Kawhi injury||23.0||4.6||3.4||2.0||53.7||38.1||84.6|
Coming into the Conference Finals, Jackson's efficiency of 50.3 percent shooting from the field, 43.5 percent from 3 and 92.3 percent from the free throw line joined him with Chris Paul as the only two players shooting 50-40-90 in the postseason.
According to StatMuse, after his Game 3 performance, Jackson is side-by-side with Stephen Curry as the only two players in NBA History (!) to average over 3.0 3-pointers per game with a true shooting percentage over 65.0 percent in a single playoff run (min. 15 games).
Going for 23 points in Game 3 marked Jackson's seventh contest with 20-plus points this postseason, a milestone that has only been hit by some pretty high-quality names so far: George, Leonard, Trae Young, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Devin Booker, Donovan Mitchell, Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, Khris Middleton and Tobias Harris.
After signing a one-year deal worth just $2.3 million with the Clippers last offseason, maybe Jackson is playing for his next contract as an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Maybe he has had this in him all along and this is the first true opportunity he has received to showcase it on the brightest stage.
Regardless of his motive, Jackson has been timely, clutch and efficient, and he'll have to continue to ride this hot streak if the Clippers are going to overcome their third 2-0 deficit to reach the NBA Finals.
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