The LA Clippers face some questions after an embarrassing game seven defeat at the hands of the Denver Nuggets.
There’s something magical about that three-to-one deficit in a best-of-seven playoff series. For the LA Clippers, they were unfortunately on the wrong side of it.
Just ask LeBron James, who completed the infamous down three-to-one comeback with the Cleveland Cavaliers to topple the 73-9 Warriors in 2016 to capture his third NBA Finals title.
Just ask the Nuggets, who have now defeated consecutive opponents in this year’s playoffs (first the Jazz, then the Clippers) by rallying back from down three games to one in their two series thus far. In accomplishing this feat, they’ve become the first team in NBA history to do it.
Heck, just ask Clippers head coach Doc Rivers, who now has more game seven losses than any coach in NBA history with eight, amounting to a 6-8 lifetime record in those games.
Save for one NBA title with the Boston Celtics back in 2008, Doc Rivers can’t seem to win the big one regularly. And yet simultaneously, his teams are always well-coached, usually talented and consistently among the best in the league.
Now, the 2019-20 Clippers will be lumped in there with the rest of Rivers’ previous playoff failures.
It’s truly a shame that the team with arguably the deepest and most talented roster in the entire NBA has to exit in this fashion. A starting five of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell and Ivica Zubac would surely have given the now overwhelming title favorite LA Lakers a run for their money in the Western Conference Finals.
Instead, it’ll be Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic’s Nuggets attempting to run LeBron’s Lakers out of the Orlando bubble, with the winner of the series representing the Western Conference in the NBA Finals.
That series promises to be full of intrigue and story-lines, but certainly not the match-up that fans or the media were expecting to see.
So now that the season is prematurely over for the Clippers, where do they go from here?
For starters, reports have indicated that Doc Rivers is slated to return as head coach of the team for next season. Take that as you will, but Rivers remains one of the best coaches in the game. It would be a mistake to fire the former NBA Champion coach despite his recent faulty playoff resume.
Rivers was a large part of why stars like Kawhi Leonard and Paul George flocked to Los Angeles last offseason. His coaching style and reputation make him proficient in managing superstars over the long haul.
As far as Rivers’ playoff performance goes, he doesn’t play in the games. He might draw up the rotations and serve as the team’s court tactician, but it’s up to the players to execute those plays and make good on Rivers’ wealth of basketball knowledge.
In Game 7 against the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday, Kawhi Leonard, renowned for his “clutch gene”, was anything but, scoring just 14 points on 6-22 shooting including two three pointers. It’s hard to fathom that this was the same Kawhi Leonard who essentially carried the Toronto Raptors single-handedly to a championship last season.
As for Paul George, his history of poor game seven performances once again reared its ugly head in this series. Scoring just 10 points on 4-16 shooting, also with two three pointers, it was yet another night to forget for PG-13 in this year’s playoffs.
Not getting support from role players like Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell only made things worse for the heavily favored Clippers.
In games where both your stars and role players disappear, it’s hard to come out on top.
The good news is that the Clippers have basketball’s richest owner in Steve Ballmer, who has emphatically stated his desire to win a championship with the Clippers. Financially speaking, keeping this current core of players together should not be a terribly difficult task, and a rebuild is not expected to be in the cards.
Los Angeles should also have some cap room to maneuver with and even add to their already impressive depth going into 2021. Not to mention, another year of this current group playing together should improve player relations and solve any remaining team chemistry issues.
Time wasn’t even much of an issue for the Association in general, as the NBA was able to complete most of its regular season, and now the entirety of the playoffs, even amidst the pandemic.
Nevertheless, the Clippers will now have the time together over the off-season that they’ve sought out to fix the issues that led to their demise in 2020.