The following is an account the Los Angeles Clippers 113-100 Game 7 defeat at the hands of the Houston through the eyes of a fan. It is told in first person, and details my experiences prior, during, and after the match.
“Can this line move any faster?” I think to myself, questioning my choice of pre-game breakfast locale. The sound of the word “Clippers” catches my ear, followed by laughter from two other patrons. Most of the conversation is indiscernible, and one begins to ponder if anything was said about the Clippers at all, or if anxiety over the past contest and the one set to begin are playing games with the mind. I check the clock on my phone, telling myself that the line is moving fast enough, that I’m not far from home, and that I can eat fast enough so that there shouldn’t be an issue with missing the game.
Once my wife and I sit down, she tells me how much she hopes the team can get over Game 6. She’s hunching over, tense and unsure. She talks about how bad the shooters have been the past couple games. I have a lack of answers or reasons to quell her concerns, as she knows as well as I do that the Clippers are a much better shooting team than they have looked in the past couple games. Her nervous body language is palpable, and as I look at her, I wonder if from my constant phone checking, awkward reactions to the other patrons, and lack for conversation this whole time whether she’s been noticing the same of me.
It turns out I don’t eat as fast as I think I do, and as I turn the radio on in the car to hear Trevor Ariza’s three that starts the game, I’m already doubting the decision to have eaten at all this morning and whether I’ll even be able to keep the food down. Home is only a couple blocks away, but that doesn’t stop me from rocking back and forth in the passenger seat. As my wife parks, she reminds me that there is plenty of game left to be played, yet her voice of reason struggles to break through the sound of Ralph Lawler announcing turnover after early turnover. Poise is not a quality I possess at this moment.
As the TV lights up, the Clippers begin to make a slight run. Chris Paul makes a couple shots, then Blake Griffin gets an easy dunk as Dwight Howard overcommits in attempt to steal the ball, bringing the deficit to one. Dwight makes one of two free throws to bring the lead to two, and a feeling sets in that this tête-à-tête might stop looking so one-sided. Those feelings are dashed seconds later as Pablo Prigioni steals the ball on the inbound and the Rockets go on a 7-0 run.
The Prigioni steal begins to feel like a harbinger for what might be the game’s outcome as the every scoring burst LAC can muster is quickly countered by a Rockets rally that extends the lead. Down by five becomes down by nine, and with the sight of each successful free throw by Clint Capela and each missed shot by Jamal Crawford, the sense that this series will get stolen away from these Clippers grows every bit stronger.
Thinking back to telecasts from the regular season, I’m reminded of anecdotes from Michael Smith on how much Jamal Crawford likes to play at the Toyota Center, and how much he likes the baskets here. Watching him early in the quarter and for much of this series, it appears the feeling hasn’t been mutual. While frustrating to witness, I can’t even fathom what levels of frustration are felt as one who not long ago had no difficulty making the most ridiculous of shots, only now to be mired in the inability to make shots at all.
Laughing in the face of their career statistics, these struggles don’t seem to be affecting Josh Smith or Corey Brewer at all. The two appear to have carried their merciless three-ball accuracy over from Thursday’s fourth quarter, all while J.J. Redick continues the shooting struggles he’s had all week. I stare up at the ceiling as if it will look back at me and answer as to when regression of the mean will set in, all while trying to ignore the voice in my head that already knows all end points are arbitrary.
But I also tell myself arbitrary doesn’t exclude the moment at hand.
Just like in the first frame, every push the Clippers make has been met with a response by the Rockets. A push to take a fifteen point deficit down to six is met with a late quarter counter, with the surge punctuated by a Harden alley-oop to Dwight to bring their lead back to double digits. The seconds tick down and the buzzer sounds, and given the course of events so far, the stoppage in play feels like an act of clemency.
The mute button on the remote is the first thing I reach for once the first half ends. The halftime show is nearing, and a dissertation on the first 24 game minutes is not something I’m looking forward to at this point. My thoughts go back to the rest of the series, remembering how pivotal the third quarter has been in each game of the series, only for flashbacks of Game 6 to seep in and lay waste to my attempts to detach from my emotions.
Next to me, my wife sits with her head in her tablet, playing a game on the device to pass the time. Rather than to dwell, she decides to distract, and soon I’m taking out my phone to follow her lead. The next few minutes are quiet, but considering the moments prior were filled with sighs of our mutual disappointment, the silence is not unwelcome.
Relief can come in many forms while watching a Clippers game. Watching DeAndre Jordan sink back-to-back free throws is one of them. Save for an Ariza three-pointer, the period starts off well enough for the road team, with CP3 leading the run. A Blake jumper and a Redick lay-up cut the deficit to three, and as they begin to show flashes of their early-series grandeur, glimmers of hope gradually sprout into grains of confidence.
With each Clipper basket during the run, my wife slowly moves closer and closer to the front of the couch. As Houston calls time out to stop the Los Angeles rally, she drapes her arms over my shoulders as if to signal that the last of the Clippers’ struggles are now in our rear view. Her optimism is boundless, and despite only joining the ranks of Clipper Nation when we started dating, I doubt her exuberance could be jaded by the Olowokandis and broken water mains that have dragged on many a fan. I often wish I could watch the games the way she does.
Houston extends the lead, but it remains in single digits. That is, until Prigioni steals the ball on an inbounds play once again, this time finishing the possession seconds later by stroking a wide-open three from the right wing. The Rockets lead continues to grow, with each basket that pushes the Clippers’ deficit further, my wife begins slinking further towards the back of the couch. They finish on a 25-11 run, and the exasperation felt earlier comes roaring back to the both of us.
Perhaps how we watch the games isn’t so different.
Each commercial break begins to pass in slow motion, with the thud of EDM-laced beer commercials banging away at the eardrums for what feels like a generation. Doc Rivers threatens to make the game itself just as untenable by hacking Howard to put the Rockets into the bonus. Kevin McHale responds by opting to sit Dwight, and not long after breathing a sigh of relief, the Clippers begin to put together a few scoring plays in succession. It doesn’t seem like the beginnings of a rally, but each lay-up and jump shot begins to snowball. With a minute and a half left, only 8 points separate both teams after a Jordan dunk with the chance of a three-point play.
There’s something endearing about the scrappy competitiveness of Chris Paul. As he nearly piggybacks Dwight Howard to commit a loose ball foul after DeAndre’s missed extra point opportunity, one is reminded of his willingness to find the advantage in each play. The way that manifests itself might be a turn off for some, but to assume a person wouldn’t seek the upper hand is to assume there is honor among thieves.
Dwight would miss both free throws, and I grow ever tenser as I realize how much closer to the improbable a score on the next Clippers possession would bring them. To then witness an open Redick three carom off the side of the rim and backboard would instead bring a numbing sensation across my chest and shoulders. The game clock continues to tick down, and mere seconds after they enter the last minute of the contest, Trevor Ariza would hit his sixth three-pointer of the game. With the deficit now at eleven, my wife voices two words that we both are reluctant to admit are true:
Sitting on the couch with my arms hunched onto my legs, the weight of my chest begins to grow. Beating the Spurs only validates the claims that this Clipper team is indeed a contender, and yet the ensuing result from this series projects a sense of bitterness on the palette, both for the team with goals unresolved and its supporters hoping to experience new horizons. If this team was good enough to go up 3-1 in this series, then they were good enough to make the Conference Finals, and the acceptance of the teams capabilities as well as its shortcomings is why this ending stings so much.
I begin to ask myself if fandom is like a type of Stockholm Syndrome where we each willingly choose our captors, but before I can complete the thought, my wife tells me she is already looking forward to next year. I look over at her, and in that moment, the grief subsides just a bit. It’s not just a show of optimism, but also a reminder; even when failure looms in the present, hope springs eternal in the ability to start anew.