The headline says all you need to know about how much things change but also stay the same.
The Los Angeles Clippers, who finished the 2019-20 season as the number two seed in the Western Conference for the first time in franchise history, are now one game away from potentially erasing any goodwill they may have built during this last season. After being up 3-1 in the Western Conference Semifinals against the Denver Nuggets, the Clippers have blown two straight games – most recently a 111-98 embarrassment on Sunday afternoon that looked worse than the scoreboard intimates.
At halftime of Sunday’s game, the Clippers were up 63-47 and followed that up by only scoring 16 points in the third quarter, allowing Denver to score 30 and walk into the 4th quarter with a 2-point deficit (79-77). It is understandable that basketball is fluid and anything can happen. But when you are up 16 halfway through the game and you have a chance to end the series, you don’t let up. Yet that’s exactly what the Clippers did.
Nikola Jokic, who pushed the Nuggets with 34 points, 14 rebounds and six assists, said after the game that the Clippers have all the pressure going into the deciding Game 7. In this case, Jokic is 100 percent right. After going six games against a Dallas Mavericks team that isn’t half as deep as Denver is, the Clippers needed to prove that they were worthy of the seeding they earned here. These last couple of games have scared the most loyal of Clippers fans as they are beginning to remember the great collapses of most recent years (2015 being the worst).
Sunday’s game showed that while Kawhi Leonard and Paul George (25 and 33 points, respectively) are doing all they can to push the Clippers over the hump, the rest of the team is doing bupkus. The remaining 10 players that saw playing time on Sunday combined for a miserable 40 points, which is unacceptable in a game that can decide your playoff fate. If the Clippers had won on Sunday, they would be gearing up for their first-ever Western Conference Finals appearance this week, where they would be facing the number one-seeded Los Angeles Lakers in what would be the most anticipated matchup of the NBA Playoffs and serve as the true “Battle for Los Angeles”.
If the Clippers lose Tuesday’s deciding Game 7, there will be a lot more questions about next season than they will have answers. Both Leonard and George are on two-year deals and losing in such an epic fashion will most certainly have both camps wondering if coming to the Clippers was the right move. Another question will be the fate of head coach Doc Rivers, who has been the constant behind the team’s success of the last decade but also hasn’t been able to lead the team past the Western Conference Semifinals.
One thing is for sure if Tuesday ends up in another loss: the Los Angeles Clippers will forever be looked at as the bridesmaid who could never get her bride. At least if they make the conference finals and lose, they will gain some respect and at least be on level footing as the Lakers. If they lose on Tuesday, forget it.