For the sixth year in a row the Los Angeles Clippers have taken their leave of the playoffs before the conference finals. Extenuating circumstances plagued the team the last two seasons with injuries to Paul and Griffin coming at inconvenient points in both series, robbing the team of true closure, but in a grand sense it’s difficult not to see the lack of postseason accomplishment as an indictment of this team’s core and the way the roster has been constructed around them.
It was impressive how the Clippers forced this series to seven games, but as I mentioned in the previous recap game 6 felt like an illusion where the Clippers bench played over their heads and the Jazz missed a bunch of open shots. The truth is the Jazz have had a stranglehold over the tempo of the series since game 3 and the Clipper’s have been exclusively reliant on Chris Paul having an excellent game in order for a chance to win, which he did not have in game 7.
But before we go blaming Paul, who averaged 25-10-5 shooting 50 percent from the field for the series, and before we blame the loss of the series as a whole on the absence of Griffin, it’d be wise to look at the rest of the roster. In an elimination game, perhaps the last of this iteration of the Clippers, Paul Pierce (PAUL PIERCE) played 21 minutes, Austin Rivers played 37, and Jamal Crawford played 32. That’s two wings on the wrong side of 35 and a a player who, while admittedly did grow into his role this season, would be the seventh man on a good team. These are the players that the Clippers, backed against a wall, had available to go down with. Even factoring in Griffin’s injury, this marks an institutional failure on the part of the Clipper’s front office, from Steve Balmer and Doc Rivers down.
This isn’t the first time this has happened either. There’s a reason why the Clippers have consistently fallen apart if any one of their core players go down. It’s why they ended up playing a team as good as the Jazz in the first place, because they couldn’t survive the stretches of time during the regular season when Griffin and Paul were out. During his four year tenure as GM, Rivers has yet to construct a viable bench or identify a two-way wing that fits alongside the starters (apologies to Luc Mbah a Moute’s three point shot which, credit to him, did improve significantly this season but not reliably enough for him to truly stretch the floor the way he needed to).
For the fourth year, the Clippers were content to trot out a team consisting of Paul, Griffin, Jordan, Redick and not much else–believing that to be enough, as long as they all stayed healthy. And for the fourth year in a row, they were not enough and they did not stay healthy.
That was perhaps the most telling part of this series. The Jazz, one of the young teams on the rise in the West, have already eclipsed the Clippers in terms of talent and depth. Even if Griffin had been healthy and the Clippers had managed to get past Utah, was there any scenario where this team took the Warriors to anything but a five game series?
It is truly a shame that this version of the Clippers will likely never have the closure of finishing off their run with all their guys healthy. But that’s life in the NBA. Still, they accomplished a great number of things that seemed unfathomable for this franchise only six years ago and for that they should be lauded and eventually honored. But now, finally, it’s time to move on.
If this is it, then here’s to what was, if nothing else, one hell of a ride.