October 26, 2020
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The lack of red and blue banners in the rafters is evident as to why Staples Center staff have continued to cover up the Lakers championship banners before each Clippers home game in an effort to make the team feel out of the shadows of their more successful tenants. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

By Matt Barrero, Assistant Sports Editor

ORLANDO — One game. All they needed to do was win one game. One, measly, victory to exorcise the demons and set up one of the most anticipated Western Conference Finals (WCF) in recent years. But let’s not forget who we’re talking about here. If any team, just one game away from advancing to its first conference finals ever, and against the team whose shadow it has been enveloped by for nearly 40 years, could blow it all, it’s the Clippers.

But, still. If you had told me a week ago that the Denver Nuggets would be playing in the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, I would have looked you straight in the eye and called you crazy – or maybe question if you were remotely familiar with the Clippers history in Los Angeles. A sad and grueling history that ranks among the most dismal four-decade history of any modern sports franchise, one long string of mediocrity punctuated by abject failure and the occasional seductive whiff of success that almost makes you forget its the Clippers.

Other sports teams have blown 3-1 leads in the NBA playoffs; in fact, it’s been almost regular the past five years. Until 2015, it had happened only eight times, to the Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns twice, and the Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs, Orlando Magic, New York Knicks and, most recently, the Lakers in 2006.

But since 2015, it has happened five times. And wouldn’t you know it, the Clippers started the skein, dropping a 3-1 lead to the Houston Rockets in the 2015 conference semifinals. But this is the first time one team has clawed back from the hole twice in the same postseason: The Nuggets battled back against the Utah Jazz down 3-1 in the first round of these playoffs.

Hide the razorblades

That makes the Clipper collapse galling enough, as Doc Rivers and friends should have had at least an inkling that this was a hard team to put away.

But this one is demoralizing. In fact, when you consider the stakes, it’s enough to put the three longtime Clippers fans out there on suicide watch. This might be the worst postseason collapse of any professional team in Los Angeles’ history (sorry Dodgers haters, but seven straight postseason appearances without a ring is bad but at least they showed up to the dance; the Clippers have never even found the right pair of shoes to get to the conference finals).

But it’s not just they were 48 minutes away from the last stop before the Promised Land, or that they blew second-half leads in games five and six against the Nuggets It’s that when they beat Denver to take that commanding 3-1 lead, they were thisclose to punching a ticket onto a ride that has happened only once in Los Angeles history: a cross-town playoff matchup. (OK, so the Kings and Ducks facing off in the 2014 NHL semifinals was more of a cross-county matchup, but its the closest we’ve ever come).

Even in this surreal season of stops, starts and a big bubble, Los Angeles hoops fans were practically slavering for a matchup between the Lakers and Clippers. That kind of happens when the two teams that share the building can boast of the biggest free-agent signing last year, Lebron James to the Lakers, and the biggest this season, Kawhi Leonard to the Clippers, who then traded for Paul George.

Those two moves seemed to signal a tectonic shift in the local NBA landscape. The Lakers have been dreadful the past six seasons, without a winning record or a playoff appearance, while the Clippers have missed the postseason only once. But the Clippers still had to do a little bit of catching up in the numbers department, like 8-3. As in the number of NBA championships compared to the number of playoff series wins for the Clippers since their move to San Diego in the summer of 1984.

Lakers Fans Can Still Talk Trash

The stark difference in the team’s fortunes, and the perennial dumping on the Clippers by Lakers fans, wouldn’t have been erased had the Clippers advanced, and beaten the Lakers in the Battle of Los Angeles, a city championship with the victor advancing the finals. But it would have been a start.

And with the Clippers firmly lodged in the driver’s seat after winning games three and four, not even game five’s, 111-105 loss seemed anything but a slight bump on their road to the conference finals. .No problem since THIS Clippers team was unlike anything from their past and they still held a 3-2 series lead heading into last Sunday’s Game 6.

But the fourth win in a best-of-seven series is usually always the toughest. And the Clippers proved that, as they coughed up a 16-point halftime lead and were outscored by 30 as the Nuggets won 111-98 to force a deciding game seven.

OK, this was all for dramatic effect, right?

The Clippers couldn’t possibly blow a 3-1 series lead and not advance to play the Lakers.


Seemed to be the case at the five-minute mark of the second quarter as the Clipper sheld a 12-point lead. But the Nuggets cut the deficit to two at halftime. And then all the ghosts, skeletons, ringwraiths, Olowokandis, Benoits and Kamans who have tortured the Clippers for so long decided to post up. In the 24 minutes that followed, the Clippers scored 33 points. And those 33 points were the last points of this bizarre season, as the Nuggets embarrassed the Clips through the second half, easily winning Game 7 by a final score of 104-89.

As Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times said, “The Clipper Curse lives…The monumental Hallway Series is dead, and the Clipper Curse killed it.”

Postseason Woes, Thy Name is Clippers

The Clippers added to their postseason woes, but this was supposed to be the start of becoming relevant in a town ruled by Lakers fans. After bringing in two-time NBA champion Leonard and All-Star forward George during the offseason, the Clippers had brought different energy all season long which started to give Lakers fans (myself included) reasons to stop doubting this hapless franchise. They entered the NBA bubble second in the Western Conference, fourth in the entire league, and had the third-best odds of hoisting the NBA title when all was said and done.

Looking back on this day, September 15, well down the road, we won’t remember the Nuggets completing an epic comeback. We will remember this as the day the Clippers choked out of the playoffs, yet again.

When the going got tough and the superstars needed to exceed their highest expectations, Clippers fans got a 24-point combined performance from Leonard and George while power-forward Montrezl Harrell led the team with 20 points, almost matching the two stars’ total.

Not great, Bob.

Was it the Clippers lack of chemistry and streaky play throughout the season that caused their earlier than anticipated departure from the postseason?

Perhaps it was the ghosts of Clippers’ past that reared their ugly heads.

One could argue the team was just too tired to compete further – that statement is actually factual since it was confirmed by NBA senior writer, Marc J. Spears of ESPN.

But I digress.

Whatever it may be, the Clippers continue to toil in the enormous shadows of Kareem, Magic, Big-Game James, Shaq and Kobe, and probably squandered their best chance at grabbing even a shard of that light.

The offseason will be shorter than usual, with the expected 2020-2021 season starting sometime in late December or early January, but for this franchise the next several months of waiting will feel like an eternity.

On paper, the Clippers are still considered to be a championship contender, but the question remains the same: are the Clippers ever going to reach the top of the mountain? Hell, are they ever going to make it out of the KOA Campground?



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