What is to blame for Clippers’ latest playoff failure
How does a team that began the season with championship aspirations find themselves listening to Paul George preach about loyalty after a catastrophic second-round defeat? The answer is because that team is the Los Angeles Clippers.
Since the Clippers’ arrival in Los Angeles, they have effectively filled the role of little brother to the iconic Los Angeles Lakers. Following the Clippers’ most recent postseason blunder, the Lakers now possess a prime opportunity to capture their record-tying 17th NBA championship, while their crosstown rivals have still yet to crack the code on advancing to the Western Conference Finals.
After acquiring Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the Clippers were supposed to finally exorcise the playoff demons that have haunted the franchise. Instead, the duo of All-Stars co-authored arguably the most painful playoff series loss in the franchise’s extensive history of painful playoff losses.
The team has already made a big move by firing Doc Rivers as head coach. Now they will look to maximize their potential next season.
But before the Clippers can move forward and set their sights to next season, they must revisit the events that transpired this year.
When they try to examine what went wrong, they must discover what is to blame. Here is our look at the culprits most at fault for the Clippers’ devastating series loss to the Denver Nuggets.
The Clippers Curse
The Clippers have never advanced to the Western Conference Finals, despite having numerous chances. With each heartbreak they endured seemingly more painful than the last, it’s worth asking the question: could they be cursed?
The Clippers are 0-8 with a chance to clinch a Conference Finals appearance.
That's the longest streak in NBA history. pic.twitter.com/vHCYRh6Ot6
— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) September 16, 2020
Unfortunately for the Clippers, it’s stats like this that earn your franchise the “choker” moniker.
The Clippers blew a 3-1 series lead, marking the 4th time they've lost a series despite holding a 2-game lead. They are the only franchise with four such losses.
They now have a .333 series win pct. when leading by two games. Every other team in NBA history has a winning record. pic.twitter.com/Vu1UTk01Xg
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 16, 2020
The Clippers’ loss to the Nuggets had far more to do with what occurred on the basketball court than any superstition. However, it remains perplexing how one franchise can continuously fail in such dramatic fashion.
While no players from the team’s 3-1 implosion against the Rockets in 2015 are still on the roster, Doc Rivers remained the one constant variable.
Although Doc Rivers is just one of six active NBA head coaches to have hoisted a Larry O’Brien Trophy, he’s been on the sidelines for some of the most notable collapses in NBA history. Listen to what eleven-time champion Phil Jackson had to say about how Rivers’ Celtics teams performed in clutch moments.
Phil Jackson talking about Doc Rivers teams blowing leads in the 4th quarter pic.twitter.com/qjS2EmAvwT
— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) September 14, 2020
“They know how to lose in the fourth quarter,” Jackson said of Rivers’ Boston Celtics during the 2010 NBA Finals.
Rivers is lauded for his ability to connect and motivate his players, but his teams have consistently underperformed during the most consequential moments. Building series leads only to watch the opposing team come storming back has seemingly become his specialty.
Doc Rivers blew a 3-1 lead in three decades and is the only coach to blow multiple 3-1 leads in NBA history.
∙ 2020 vs. Nuggets
∙ 2015 vs. Rockets
∙ 2003 vs. Pistons pic.twitter.com/6hAlxMIrhn
— ESPN (@espn) September 16, 2020
The Clippers took a look at all these numbers and decided it was time to go in a different direction with their head coach.
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George
When the lights are the brightest, it is paramount that your stars deliver. During the second half of Game 7, when the Clippers needed their stars the most, they were nowhere to be found.
The Clippers led by 2 at the half in their eventual Game 7 loss.
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George combined to score 5 points on 2-18 shooting in the 2nd half.
Leonard posted his worst field goal percentage in any half of his career in which he attempted at least 10 shots. pic.twitter.com/IkB2BYBurt
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 16, 2020
Leonard struggled in the fourth quarter all series long, as he shot just 27 percent from the field and 33 percent from deep. For George, it was shots like the one below that cemented him with the new nickname “Way off P.”
oh my god pic.twitter.com/0HrWTSJvev
— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) September 16, 2020
As Leonard and George fumbled the game away, the Nuggets’ dynamic duo composed of Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic seized the moment. Murray drilled big shot after big shot like he did all series long, as his 40 points easily trumped Leonard and George’s combined total of 24. The Joker dominated the glass and consistently found the open man as he recorded a 16-point, 22-rebound, 13-assist triple-double.
As easy as it is to blame the Clippers for losing a series they once held a prominent lead in, it’s important not to discredit what Denver accomplished. The Nuggets won the series largely due to the fact that in Game 7, the two best players on the court were on their side.
Despite having one of the most talented rosters in the NBA, the Clippers never seemed to function as a cohesive unit, as chemistry issues plagued them all season long. While the Clippers have cracked the code on attracting superstar talent, winning on the biggest stage remains one mystery this franchise cannot solve.
Jack Reining covers the NBA for Larry Brown Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @JackReining3