One week after the Clippers most inspiring day, and their most devastating night, the Clippers are on vacation. It hasn’t settled in the mind. The team I saw go up 2-0 in the series against the Blazers had a simple loose ball foul end their bid to prolong their series with Portland. Not that it changes the last line of the game but the score was tied in Game 6. C.J. McCollum missed a jumper and Jeff Green was called for going over the back of Mason Plumlee in pursuit of the rebound. Plumlee hit both free throws and Jamal Crawford missed his attempt to tie with seconds remaining. In a game with 19 lead changes, that sequence was enough to send the Trail Blazers to a 106-103 win and claim the series.
But that was not what happened to the Clippers. It was so much more than that.
A few days before the Steph Curry injury, followed by the Chris Paul injury and surgery, followed by the Blake Griffin shut the season down melodrama, I walked out of Staples Center with the Clippers leading the series 2-0. The Blazers then won Game 3 by the score of 96-88 on the shoulders of McCollum and Damian Lillard, while J.J. Redick’s bruised heel limited his production.
Game 4 was Armaggedon.
The Clippers were high on the fact that something unlucky had finally happened to the Warriors, a Steph injury. But then, in a matter of hours- that’s the speed of light in the Clippers world- both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin were lost for the duration of the playoffs. Griffin re-aggravated a quad tendon injury, while Paul broke a bone in his hand and showed obvious frustration heading to the locker room. Replacing their skills and a combined 41 points per night was an incredibly daunting task for the suddenly undermanned Clippers. They couldn’t manage it.
This is what the Clippers can count on. Losing in the playoffs because…well it’s always something. While other teams get lucky, the Clippers get morose. Either it’s choking away a 3-1 series lead. Or, it’s Chris Paul turning the ball over twice in 17 seconds in OKC. Or, it’s Lamar Odom stepping on Blake Griffin’s foot in practice. Or, it’s Donald Sterling’s girl thing playing the victim card and derailing the playoffs. It’s the Clippers version of perfection which looks very similar to misery.
But if there was one thing we learned about the Clippers this season, it had to do with the often maligned coach’s son, Austin Rivers. Rivers took a vicious elbow to the eye in Game 6. It was unintentional but tell that to the eye. Rivers looked like Ali in the Thrilla in Manila. He was the best player on the court even though one eye was nearly sewn shut. Coincidentally, or perhaps, right on time, Rivers can opt-out of his contract this season and sign somewhere else. Perhaps, playing for his father accomplished what Rivers wanted. It reignited his career.
Before he came to L.A. Austin Rivers was seen as a product of nepotism. Example A of what happens when your father is a respected and revered NBA coach. He was tolerated. But Rivers showed toughness this year. Splice in a good dose of grit. He was a solid Chris Paul backup and showed the league he truly does belong. Furthermore, his admission that he and his father’s relationship is only basketball, that they aren’t involved in each other’s lives away from the game, explains that, contrary to public opinion, Austin wasn’t giving anything when he came here. He’s hardly the prodigal son.
So what do we know?
The summer melodrama of 2015 didn’t account for much. DeAndre Jordan to Dallas to the Clippers benefited the Clips on the defensive end but when they needed Jordan to take his game to another level because the top two stars were out he couldn’t.
It was hard to blame Coach Rivers for getting choked up during one of the postgame press conference considering all he has been through with the Clipper organization. Commonly, the Clippers are viewed through the prism of the cursed, and the evidence of something asunder has been whispered about since Danny Manning’s multiple knee injuries in the ’80’s. Doc has never had a team this good always self-destruct, either from injury, bad luck, mental toughness or self-inflicted wounds. He had reason to cry.
The Clippers posed little threat to win a title after suffering such major injuries. That’s the bottom line to all of it. But their fans must be wondering what could have been had they managed to escape the Pacific Northwest. A similar effort might have been just enough to push the Clippers into a series with Golden State had they been able to send the series home. Crawford may have been pressed into heavy minutes, but in Game 6 he showed off some of the talent that landed him the Sixth Man award. The Clippers certainly went down swinging. The team was emotional but also acknowledged all they had been through.
Austin Rivers commented after the narrow loss: “I’m very sad, I’m very disappointed, but I’m also very proud.”
The Blazers will be playing with house money in the second round against a Warriors team that is uncertain about when Steph Curry will be available. But the Blazers front court is woefully inadequate a matchup for the defending champions.
Ed Davis put it simply: “We have nothing to lose.” Not true. They have the second round series to lose.
As for the Clippers, the first round loss is a devastating testament to everything that you can say about them in the negative. What happens in the playoffs, for the Clippers, never stays in the playoffs. It haunts them year after year after year.
photo via llananba