Sunday afternoon had historic implications for Southern California’s other hockey and basketball teams. For the host Anaheim Ducks it was Game 1 of the NHL Western Conference Finals against the Chicago Blackhawks.
For the Los Angeles Clippers it was a Game 7 on the road trying to put away the Houston Rockets to earn their first trip to the NBA Western Conference Finals.
In 2014, neither team was able to get out of their own way losing in the 2nd round of the playoffs. The Ducks lost a 3-2 series lead to local rival the Los Angeles Kings, including an embarrassing 6-2 Game 7 loss in Anaheim.
While on the other end the Clippers blew a 7-point lead with 49 seconds left in Game 5 against the Oklahoma City Thunder and then lost a double-digit lead at home in Game 6 ending their season in the second round for the second time in three years.
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Both teams went into this season having made significant front-office moves that pretty much defined their seasons.
For the Ducks it was a trade with division rival Vancouver, acquiring center Ryan Kesler to extend their depth in the middle. The Clippers also made a move signing free-agent Spencer Hawes for three years and agreeing to pay him in the ballpark of $22 million — a move made to give them length and three-point shooting.
For better or for worse both off-season moves were a small part of each teams season. Kesler proved to be as advertised giving the Ducks depth at the center position as he was 3rd on the team in points.
In the playoffs Kesler’s presence has continued to payoff, as he scored the game winning goal in the series clinching game of the 1st round.
For the Clippers the Spencer Hawes signing has proven to be a bust.
During the regular season Hawes only averaged 5 points per game and played an average of 17 minutes, he became so unreliable that Clippers Coach Doc Rivers hardly used him in the playoffs, creating depth issues magnified by poor bench play and a hamstring injury to team leader Chris Paul.
On Sunday as the Ducks took to the ice, the Clippers game in Houston also began.
For the Ducks scoring contributions from Defenseman Hampus Lindoholm and third line grinder Nate Thompson along with outstanding goaltending from Fredrick Andersen proved to be enough to take a 1-0 lead in their series against the Blackhawks.
Whereas the Ducks depth won them the day, the Clippers lack of it on Sunday proved to be their undoing.
Going back to game 6 at the Staples Center, the Clippers had a nineteen point lead in that game with two minutes left in the third quarter and were then blitzed as they were outscored 40 to 23 to end up losing stunning the Clippers fans in attendance.
Their woes continued in Game 7 as the Clippers were down twenty points going into the fourth quarter, getting zero points from starter Matt Barnes and watching J.J. Redick shoot a dismal 2-9 from three-point land including a miss would have brought the Clippers within 5 points with only 90 seconds left in the game.
“What happened in Game 6… I’ll think about it for a long time, and so will our players.”
On Sunday you had two Southern California teams playing for their playoff lives, and while the Ducks continue their quest to raise the Stanley Cup, the Clippers can again only think about lost opportunities and an uncertain future asking if they’ll ever get over the hump.