It was a historic regular season for the Clippers (albeit a shortened season). For the first time since 2006 the Clippers are headed to the playoffs.
Much has gone well for the Clippers this season. But when fans who have followed this team all season are sure to be disappointed with the Clippers eventually being the fifth seed entering the playoffs (given a home victory for Memphis against Orlando Thursday night), and not the division winning third seed, or at least the fourth seed with home court advantage. The Clippers were unable to win their last two road games of the season at Atlanta and at New York. The Clippers let the chance to win the Pacific Division for their first time in franchise history slip away as the Lakers elbowed their way to a victory over the Thunder, and the Clippers couldn’t get over the hump as Robin Lopez headlocks, Joe Johnson banked in three pointers, and J.R. Smith tattoos and three point shooting precluded Clipper victories in their final three away games.
So the bad news is a playoff series without home court advantage against the Memphis Grizzlies, the team no one wanted to play coming into the playoffs. A groin injury to Chris Paul in the Atlanta game leaves his status for the playoffs in question, or at least his usual effectiveness. The remainder of the Clippers season is in serious doubt. This is not where the Clippers hoped to be when the week started.
This was a very disappointing way to go into the playoffs. But there is some good news if I am the Clippers headed into the playoffs, which have come out of the last games of the regular season.
1.) The re-emergence of Blake Griffin
He was absolutely one of the best players in the league in the first half of the season. His numbers backed up his highlight dunks. But those expectations have caught up with him a bit as the season has come along. He has felt that pressure on the offensive end, and as a result has rushed that element of his game. And when it hasn’t gone well he has become frustrated. But in Griffin’s last three games Griffin has scored 21, a season high 36, and 29 points and shot OVER 70% from the field. He has reasserted his offensive game at the right time. He hasn’t had to carry as much of the scoring load because . . .
2.) The bench has improved
Mo Williams had been the only productive player off the bench after Chauncey Billups’ injury. But when Mo Williams missed 14 games with a toe injury, the rest of the bench learned to be effective without him. He can be streaky at times, but Eric Bledsoe came in and added both effective scoring and defense, Kenyon Martin has stepped up with big defensive plays and is one of the closers on the floor at the end of games, and even Nick Young has contributed more timely scoring than ill advised 3 point attempts. Now that Williams is back they’ve been even better. For the season the Clippers are in bottom five in bench scoring, but credit the bench as much as any for the Clippers . . .
3.) 14-5 record in the last month of the season
Despite losing 3 of their last four, the Clippers are one of the hottest teams entering the playoffs. The Clippers got clutch after clutch performances from Chris Paul, came back from deficits and fought and scraped their way into a ½ game from first place in the division before they let it slip away in the final games. Either the team peaked during their stretch in April, or I think that their final two losses could help them. It is a wake-up call heading into the playoffs that reminds the team how hard they worked to go 13-2 over that three week stretch, and that those wins (and the hopefully forthcoming wins in the playoffs) did not come easily.
The Clippers goal for this season should be to not screw it up. Don’t screw up the excitement they built with this season. Don’t screw up the momentum they built up going into next season. Don’t be the Clippers. They weren’t the division winners, but they are in the playoffs. Mission accomplished . . .thus far. They don’t have to beat Memphis to stay on track, but how they play really will be the final evaluation if in fact they do screw it up, if Vinny Del Negro stays with the team next year, and if LA fans won’t boo Chris Paul when he is at Dodger stadium with his son.