LA Clippers: Was This Their Best Season Yet?
By: Devin Zanskas
The LA Clippers were not the only team within the NBA’s unpredictable final four that hadn’t won a championship before. Them and the Atlanta Hawks haven’t won in the finals, but the Hawks’ franchise history goes back twenty years further, to when they were the Tri-Cities Blackhawks in the 1950-1951 season. Heck, the most recent champions among the conference finalists were the Milwaukee Bucks during their third season of existence in 1971. However, only one out of 30 teams can win it all every year. The difference with the Clippers is that not only have they not even made the final round before, but they’ve also never even been a participant in the conference finals before this season. Given their past, it maybe would’ve been difficult for Clippers’ fans to imagine seeing their team where they are today. Last year was more familiar for the Clippers’ observers, as they gave up a 3-1 lead in the playoffs for the second time in five years. To their dismay, acquiring the reigning Finals MVP and a recent top three regular season MVP candidate did not avenge the disheartening misfortune of this franchise. Luckily for them, they still have more bites at the apple.
The evidence would suggest that although there will be disappointments in the postseason every year, there will still be plenty of options waiting to join a team in LA with two superstars. The Clippers were able to replace one of their sixth men of the year, Montrezl Harrell, with Serge Ibaka, a more versatile talent and veteran presence. Ibaka underwent season-ending back surgery on June 10th, and couldn’t contribute beyond their initial 0-2 drought against the Dallas Mavericks in the first round. However, they still gained a renaissance year from Nicolas Batum, who performed well beyond everyone’s wildest dreams. With these new additions, the Clippers won a top four seed for the second year in a row, but they also got mocked for tanking their last two regular season games against two early lottery teams, the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder. They did so in part by playing rookie Jay Scrubb 36 or more minutes in both of those games, even though he had only gotten run in two other regular season games all year. The point to this was avoiding the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round. However, them openly running from an opponent nearly cost them in the aforementioned series versus the Mavericks.
On May 25th, the Clippers went down 0-2 against the Mavericks, despite being the higher seed and having homecourt advantage. For a moment, it seemed like the national media was ready to return to their old slant about how the Clippers were never destined for the promised land. However, the home team would not go on to win a game in this series until the Clippers advanced to the second round in Game 7. The conference semifinals would start similarly for the Clippers compared to the first round, with the series eventually tied 2-2. The series would take a turn for the worst though, as Kawhi Leonard sustained an ACL sprain, and he would not return to the lineup for the remainder of the postseason. That setback did not halt the Clippers from literally reaching higher heights than they ever have before though. Much of the credit is due to Paul George for overcoming the “Pandemic P” slander from last season, Reggie Jackson for tying a playoff career-high 17.8 points per game, Terrance Mann for scoring a career-high 39 points to catapult the Clippers to the conference finals, and many more.