It’s true that the current Clippers team has no real connection to the team that lost a series in 2015 after leading 3-1. Well, except the coach. It’s also true that none of the current Clippers players have any connection or link at all to the mostly laughable San Diego/LA based franchise of 1978-2011. But, every single one of the players on the 2020 Los Angeles Clippers is aware of the history.
So too are Clippers fans.
Game 7, tonight against the Denver Nuggets, is crucial for several different reasons. Most obvious, whoever wins plays on, whoever loses goes home. I mean, you can’t get anymore crucial that that. But, to the Clippers and their fans, this game means a lot more. Believe me, a LOT more! What happens if they lose? What happens if they win? Aside from moving on, or going home, there are more dominoes that will fall regardless of the outcome.
The headline alone is likely giving Clippers fans heartache. No NBA fan-base is more paranoid than Clippers fans. Where Lakers fans expect their team to win, Clippers fans hope their team does. It’s been conditioned in them to expect the worst. More often than not, the worst happens to this team. Which is an odd thing to say about a team that has averaged 51 games won over the last seven NBA seasons, including the shortened one in 2020. A team that in that span won the Pacific Division twice and finished second every other season. A team that in that span made the playoffs six times.
But, that is where things get muddy for the Clippers.
In those six times in the playoffs the team has never reached the NBA Western Conference Finals. In fact, going back to 1970, when they were formed and played in the East, the franchise has never made a Conference Finals. Ever! A win finally ends that story line.
A win solidifies the Clippers, which have been a winning franchise for almost a decade, as a franchise of winners! The NBA, for better or worse, puts a lot of weight on a team and a player that makes the Finals over those who do not. For this franchise to finally get to play in the WCF giving themselves a chance to make the Finals is huge. A Clippers win means the last six years of great regular season play were no fluke, they were build up. A win means the high cost of acquiring Paul George and Kawhi Leonard was worth it.
A win validates this team!
Of course, until the next series when they have to prove it all over again. But, a win allows the team to get a 50 year old monkey off their back. The Clippers reaching the Western Conference Finals would be huge, for the fans, the franchise and the players! It means more than just a win, it means validation! The sigh of relief emanating from the Los Angeles area after a win will be heard throughout the state.
Remember the heartache “Clippers Win!” sent through Clippers Nation? This headline just demoralizes Clippers fans. Excuses will fly, trade scenarios will be presented and calls to fire the coach will be widespread. But deep inside, every Clippers fans is ready for this outcome. No one wants to accept it, but should it happen, Clippers fans will be ready for it.
It’s been conditioned in them to expect the worst.
Nothing could be worse for this 2020 Clippers team than to lose game 7 to the Denver Nuggets. Not after being up 3-1. Not after knowing that the franchise was in an identical situation in 2015 and lost. Not after knowing the franchise, yet again, will have to hear that they have never been to a Conference Finals. Ever!
Worse yet for Clippers fans, they are going to have to endure a lot of playful ribbing from Lakers fans. Ok, maybe not all that playful and more like vicious attacks than ribbing. They will be reminded that they are, and will always be, little brother to the Lakers. The onslaught from the other team in LA’s fans will be unending. It will also be deserved when you consider the Lakers are playing in the Western Conference Finals and, in this scenario, the Clippers are not.
While a Clippers lose will be a very hard pill to swallow for their fans, it could also bring some immediate change to the Clippers team. Back in 2015 Coach Doc Rivers became the first coach in the history of the Association to lose multiple 3-1 series leads. Should the Clippers lose this one, it will be the third time his teams had a 3-1 lead and lost. Is Coach Rivers to blame? It’s hard to blame a coach when it happens once in his watch. When it happens twice, you may be concerned.
But, three times?
A loss to the Nuggets in game 7 may be the straw that broke this camels back. NBA coaches have been called babysitters and therapists. In a way, certainly during the regular season, that categorization is somewhat true. During the playoffs though, when your opponent doesn’t change, coaching becomes a bit more important. Winning coaches make adjustments. Frank Vogel’s team lost game 1 to the Houston Rockets and he noticed his center was ineffective. He made changes to his rotation and starting lineup to better match the Rockets small ball.
The Lakers beat the Rockets and are in the Western Conference Finals. I know it stings Clippers fans, but I also know you are ready for the possibility of hearing that over and over and over again!
Coach Rivers has yet to make any significant adjustments. The only one of note is he limited minutes for Reggie Jackson. The most glaring adjustment that needs to be made is defending Nikola Jokic. After six games we know that the best Clippers option is Ivica Zubac. Yet, Coach Rivers, who by all accounts is a players coach, continues to give minutes to the undersized Montrezl Harrell against Jokic and Jokic is dominating!
Harrell won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award after averaging 18 ppg and 7 rpg off the bench. He is a great player and an important part of the Clippers success in 2020. Yet, he is not the right player for this match-up. In defense of Rivers, the Clippers have been very good all season long, as has Harrell.The likelihood of any team beating them four out of seven games seemed slim at the start of the playoffs. I get the impression that Rivers rolled the dice and figured that while Harrell was not the best fit, the Clippers team is better than the Nuggets team and the best team will prevail in the end.
Well, that hasn’t worked. It is on Rivers to make the adjustment and he has one game left to do it.
The real outcome
I love sports because it is the greatest reality TV on TV. There is no script. No one knows what will happen, all we can do is guess. The Clippers will win, or they will lose. Depending on the outcome a lot of different dominoes will fall. Personally, I want the Clippers to win. I want them to finally get that monkey off their back and to meet the Lakers for an all LA Western Conference Finals. I want the team to finally get the chance at validation.
The Denver Nuggets and their fans want none of the above.
The stage is set. Enjoy the game and Clippers fans get ready to breathe a huge sigh of relief after the win, or, well y’know.
Jose has written for Bleacher Report, Clipperholics, OC Weekly and wrote a series of articles covering the 2010 NBA Finals for the LA Times. He lives in Southern California and is excited to watch thePeachBasket grow!