COLUMN: Statement postseason a must for Los Angeles Clippers
And now, I’m back on the prowl, headhunting franchises that are deemed to be under-achieving with their above average capital and personnel. This time the Los Angeles Clippers are on the wrong end of my double-barrel shotgun of critique.
It’s time for head coach Doc Rivers and his team to make a significant postseason push, or there are going to be some notably big questions for Lob City. Well, I shouldn’t say that questions will arise. There is already plenty of concern and criticism for a Clippers franchise that historically been playoff-challenged.
As I compose this column, Los Angeles finds itself in an early hole, trailing the Utah Jazz in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs, 1-0. Want to talk about a heartbreaker? The Clippers dropped Game 1 of the series to the Jazz on Saturday, 97-95. A floater from Utah guard Joe Johnson sunk through the basket as time expired in regulation to put the Clippers at a 1-0 deficit in front of their home crowd.
The painful loss this weekend makes Tuesday night’s Game 2 contest feel more and more like a must-win for the No. 4-seeded Clippers.
Unlike with the Dodgers, I must admit that my sports fandom doesn’t necessarily lie with the Clippers (regrettably, the Lakers possess my loyalty). However, as an observer of Angeleno sports, I can attest that this Clipper team is in a stagnant state.
Admittedly, it’s impossible for a front office with someone like owner Steve Ballmer to be considered stale or motionless in any sense. No doubt, the folks in the Clippers’ marketing and management team are some of the best in the league. If you haven’t had the chance to catch a Clippers game at the Staples Center, then you’re missing out. It’s safe to say that the Clippers have one of the best pre-game intro routines in the NBA; it includes an array of strobe lights, pyrotechnics and lasers bouncing around the interior of the Staples Center.
Heck, for 82 games a season, the Clippers are a pretty darn solid product on the court, too. This season saw Los Angeles clinch its fifth consecutive 50-win season — regular season consistency is not the issue. The dynamic of having Paul, a future Hall-of-Famer, steering an offense — which includes rim-rattlers like Jordan and forward Blake Griffin — is not too difficult a product to sell to fans.
But the playoffs are where the Clippers have still remained baffled as a franchise. Since arriving in 2013, Rivers has the Clippers averaging 54.3 wins per regular season. Despite the consistency from October through early April, Rivers has yet to lead the Clippers organization to its first Western Conference Finals appearance in franchise history.
There have been some close calls for breakthrough past the semifinals, but none have came to fruition. In 2015, the Clippers were just one win away from advancing to the conference finals, as they led the Houston Rockets, 3-1, in the conference semifinals. However, a meltdown proceeded and the Clippers dropped three straight games to be bounced from postseason play.
In 2013, Rivers’ Clippers team was eliminated in the conference semifinals by the Oklahoma City Thunder, 4-2.
Los Angeles has been in the playoffs each of the last five seasons. These trips to the postseason have resulted in berths to the conference semis, first round, conference semis, conference semis and first round, respectively, before being eliminated.
The most frustrating aspect of the Clippers’ postseason struggles is that you can’t quite put a finger on what the missing link is. From a distance, it’s hard to find anything significantly lacking on this Clippers roster.
For years now, there has been a consistent narrative about this team: surround the Paul-Griffin-Jordan nucleus with viable talent. Doesn’t it seem like the Clippers have done an ample job of delivering on this?
Guard J.J. Reddick is an assassin from beyond the arc. Reddick holds the single-season franchise records for 3-pointers in a season with 201. Off the bench, Los Angeles has guard Jamal Crawford at its disposal. Crawford, the only three-time winner of the Sixth Man of the Year Award in NBA history, is arguably the best role player in the league. All of this goes without mentioning Rivers, a proven NBA coach who has championship pedigree from his time with the Boston Celtics.
You have to believe that all of the pieces for a title run are there for the Clippers. This team seems to witness its full potential in flashes throughout the regular season. They’ll put together an incredible effort to top the San Antonio Spurs one night, then turn right around with a lackluster effort against the Philadelphia 76ers.
For Clippers fans, it’s hard to imagine that any regular season feat will spark buzz. It’s hard for a fanbase to crank up the hype over a 14-2 start when so many postseason shortcomings remain in the minds of Clippers loyalists.
The Clippers have a dire need to advance to the conference finals — at the least — this playoff season. Should the team encounter elimination in the conference semifinals, or earlier, the Clippers equation to success — which already seems to have all the correct variables — will become only more frustrating.
Angel Viscarra is a sophomore studying broadcast and digital journalism. His column, “Viscarra’s Vice,” runs on Tuesdays.