The Los Angeles Clippers have made the playoffs five years in a row. Each year, they fell short of the Conference Finals.
Over the next few weeks, ClipperBlog will feature the other 17 teams to make at least five consecutive postseason appearances without reaching the Conference Finals during the streak. Eight of those 17 teams broke through and eventually made the Conference Finals before the end of the postseason streak, and two made it all the way to the NBA Finals.
But none of the previous 17 teams to make at least five consecutive postseason appearances without reaching the Conference Finals won a title before missing the playoffs first.
All of these roundups will feature the players who played at least 10,000 regular season minutes, the head coaches, and what happened to each team at the end of their run of Playoff Purgatory. We’ll circle back and relate it to the Clippers’ current situation.
Boston Celtics 1988-1993 Summary
– 1988-1989: 42-40 (8th seed), swept by Detroit Pistons in Round 1
– 1989-1990: 52-30 (4th seed), lost to New York Knicks in 5
– 1990-1991: 56-26 (2nd seed), defeated Indiana Pacers in 5, lost to Pistons in 6
– 1991-1992: 51-31 (2nd seed), swept Pacers in Round 1, lost to Cleveland Cavaliers in 7
– 1992-1993: 48-34 (4th seed), lost to Charlotte Hornets in 4
10K minutes: Reggie Lewis, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale
Head Coaches: Jimmy Rodgers (1988-1990), Chris Ford (1990-1993)
The Boston Celtics won three NBA Championships in the 1980s, but they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1987 NBA Finals and to the Detroit Pistons in the 1988 Eastern Conference Finals. During the 1st Round of the 1988 NBA Playoffs, Boston head coach K.C. Jones announced that he would resign as head coach after the playoffs, naming assistant Jimmy Rodgers as his replacement.
The Celtics reached the Eastern Conference Finals in each of Jones’ five seasons as head coach. Since SF Larry Bird arrived in 1979, the Celtics won at least 56 games each season. But the Rodgers era would get off to a rough start. Six games into the 1988-1989 season, Bird was shut down in order to get Achilles’ tendon surgery on both heels. The Celtics still had C Robert Parish, who was in his 13th NBA season, and PF Kevin McHale, who was in his 9th NBA season. But the player to emerge in Bird’s absence was SF Reggie Lewis, the 22nd pick of the 1987 NBA Draft out of Northeastern. Lewis played only 405 minutes as a rookie, but he stepped up in his 2nd season to average 18.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. The Celtics made the playoffs, but at 42-40, it was the team’s worst season in ten years. The top-seed Pistons would sweep them out of the playoffs.
Bird returned in 1989-1990, pushing Lewis to SG. McHale would also resume his 6th Man role, as Boston started Ed Pinckney at PF. Bird, McHale, and Parish would all make the All-Star team, and the Celtics bounced back somewhat, finishing 52-30. The Celtics dropped a postseason record 157 points on the New York Knicks to take a 2-0 1st round lead. But Boston would shockingly blow the series, getting dominated by New York C Patrick Ewing and losing to the Knicks in Game 5 at the Boston Garden.
That was New York’s first win at Boston since February 1984, snapping a 27-game home winning streak by the Celtics, including the postseason. You know heads were going to roll, and they did, as the Celtics fired Rodgers after back-to-back first round exits. The Celtics tried to get Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, but settled for assistant Chris Ford as the new head coach. Ford became the sixth former Celtic to be named head coach, as he won a championship with Bird, Parish, and McHale in 1981. In 1990-1991, the Celtics won the Atlantic Division with a 56-26 record, and 37-year-old Parish and 33-year-old McHale would join 34-year-old Bird in the All-Star Game for the last time. Boston would narrowly defeat the Indiana Pacers in Game 5 of the 1st round before taking a 2-1 series lead against the defending champion Pistons in the Semifinals. But the Pistons would win three straight to eliminate the Celtics.
1991-1992 marked a passing of the torch. Lewis, in his fifth season, led the Celtics in scoring with 20.8 points per game. While Bird was an All-Star and averaged 20.6 points per game in 1991-1992, he underwent back surgery in the 1991 offseason and wound up missing all of January and February of 1992. Bird left the lineup again in April 1992, but the Celtics were able to sweep the Pacers in the 1st Round without him. Bird would come back in the middle of the Semifinals, after the Celtics took a 2-1 series lead against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Entering Game 4 at Boston, the Celtics had a 20-game home winning streak against the Cavaliers. But the Cavaliers would win Game 4 in overtime, then go home and win Games 5 and 7. Bird would announce his retirement in August 1992.
Lewis and Parish remained starters for Boston for the 1992-1993 season, with McHale coming off the bench behind PF Alaa Abdelnaby. For the first time since 1978-1979, the Celtics didn’t have a player selected to the All-Star Game, though Lewis averaged 20.8 points per game for the second season in a row. The Celtics would finish 48-34, setting up a 1st Round matchup with the Charlotte Hornets, who were making their first postseason appearance in franchise history. Lewis would get off to a hot start in Game 1, scoring ten of his 17 points in the first few minutes of the game. But Lewis would collapse on the court in the first quarter, come back briefly in the third quarter, and play only 13 minutes overall in a 112-101 Celtics win.
Lewis was diagnosed with a serious heart condition and was ruled out for the rest of the 1993 NBA Playoffs. Lewis was allowed to re-enter Game 1 after his 1st quarter collapse, and he would disassociate himself from team care. The Celtics would lose Game 2 in double overtime, lose Game 3 in Charlotte by 30 points, and lose Game 4 after a buzzer-beater by Charlotte C Alonzo Mourning spoiled a 19-point comeback.
After losing to the Hornets, McHale ended his 13-year NBA career. He almost retired before the 1992-1993 season, but he changed his mind. His foot injuries made it clear that he was done.
“I’m sad,” McHale said. “This is an emotional thing. It’s tough when you have been doing something since you were 12 or 13 years old, like I’ve done it.
“It was so much fun when I was healthy. And it was so hard when I wasn’t. In light of the Reggie [Lewis] thing, my situation was so menial and so small, but I let it affect me sometimes, and I’m not proud of it.”
Tragically, Lewis was shooting baskets at the team’s training facility on July 27, 1993, when he collapsed again. Lewis went into full cardiac arrest and died at the age of 27. Just seven years earlier, the Celtics lost the 2nd pick of the 1986 NBA Draft, Len Bias, to a cocaine overdose at the age of 22.
The deaths and retirements were too much for the Celtics to overcome. Parish would turn 40 years old ahead of the 1993-1994 NBA season. The Celtics would finish 32-50, missing the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. Parish would sign with Charlotte the following offseason in August 1994, and the Celtics wouldn’t win another playoff series until 2002.
As J.A. Adande wrote last month, the Los Angeles Clippers joined these Celtics as the only teams to blow a series lead in the playoffs four seasons in a row.