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Paul George’s return jolted the Los Angeles Clippers back to life.
The All-Star guard scored 34 points after missing three months with an elbow injury, helping his team rally from a 25-point deficit to beat the Utah Jazz 121-115 on Tuesday night.
“It’s a big morale boost,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “Guys were getting worn down and tired. We needed that.”
Seeing George hit back-to-back 3-pointers in front of the Clippers bench was all Lue needed.
“I was like, ‘OK, he’s good, he’s ready,'” the coach said.
Reggie Jackson added 21 points for the Clippers, who snapped a five-game skid with a 39-point fourth quarter after trailing by 16 early in the period.
From there, the Clippers outscored Utah 34-12 to end the game. The Clippers took their first lead of the game, 110-109, on a jumper by Isaiah Hartenstein. During the spurt, George hit his sixth 3-pointer of the game.
George hadn’t played since Dec. 22 while rehabbing a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.
“I feel good,” he said. “There’s no pain.”
George initially wanted to have surgery after getting hurt, but the doctor told him that type of injury heals and the ligament would reattach itself to the bone.
“Thankfully we went that direction,” he said.
Assistant coach Brian Shaw had George running during rehab to the point where he felt more like a track and field athlete than a basketball player.
“Unnecessary running,” George said, smiling, “but it paid off. I trusted him.”
The Clippers have had multiple comeback wins when trailing by at least 20 points this season. Their 35-point comeback against Washington on Jan. 25 was the second-biggest in NBA history.
But George didn’t enjoy seeing the holes they dug themselves while he was out.
“Just always come out with energy,” he counseled his teammates. “Our intensity has to be there. The game completely changes when we give ourselves a chance.”
It was in the fourth.
With George resting to start the period, Robert Covington drilled a 3-pointer from in front of his bench that left the Clippers trailing 103-94. It was their first single-digit deficit since the opening quarter, when they were held to 14 points.
Donovan Mitchell scored 33 points and Mike Conley added 19 points for the Jazz, whose losing streak stretched to five.
Mitchell tried to call a timeout on an inbounds pass along the baseline with 10 seconds left, but the Jazz had none left. Jackson shot the technical foul and made it, putting the Clippers ahead by five.
“We turned the ball over eight times I think in the fourth quarter. We gave up, I want to say, 12, 14 second-chance points,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “Those are possessions we don’t get a chance to score. That’s 39 points around those two things.”
The Jazz struggled at the line, making 17 of 29 free throws.
Utah led by 25 points early in the third on a basket by Rudy Gobert. George scored 20 points in the period, including 10 of their final 12 points to cut the deficit to 94-82 heading into the fourth.
Jazz: Greg Monroe had four points in his debut after signing a 10-day contract on Monday. He’s expected to help fill backup minutes with center Hassan Whiteside ailing. … Their previous four losses also came on the road.
Clippers: They’ve won once in three meetings with the Jazz this season.
Jazz: Host the Lakers on Thursday.
Clippers: Visit Chicago on Thursday.