The NBA playoffs this year have been full of storylines.
Can the Brooklyn Nets superteam dominate the league and win their franchise’s first NBA Championship?
Who from the Eastern Conference can even challenge the Nets?
Can Chris Paul and the Phoenix Suns finally make the NBA Finals?
But, the biggest and most intriguing storyline on the West Coast is a simple one: Can the Los Angeles Clippers overcome their franchise’s curse?
As a Lakers fan who had to see their squad bounced out of the first round, it hurts my heart to see the Clippers in this position.
They’ve got a pretty deep squad with loads of talent at multiple positions.
Forward Kawhi Leonard is clearly one of the best two-way players in the league and back to his old self. His counterpart Paul George, nicknamed “Playoff P” or “Pandemic P” depending on the day, is a star, as much as NBA Twitter argues he’s not and even though my dislike for him rages.
Surround those two with ballers like Reggie Jackson, Marcus Morris Sr., Nicolas Batum and Terance Mann and you’ve got a scrappy squad with the potential to rock and fight for victories. It also resulted in a team with the highest three-point and free-throw shooting percentage in the entire league.
The problem, though, is evident — this is the Clippers and they tend to perform severely under their own expectations. Whether it’s from having blown a 3-1 lead in the NBA Bubble as the favorites or never having reached the Conference Finals, Clipper fans know to never get too comfortable or confident in their team.
And it’s no different this year.
An opening-round series against the lowly Dallas Mavericks went to seven games solely because of the ridiculous play from Mavs forward Luka Doncic. They even lost their first two games at home falling down 2-0 before storming back behind out-of-this-world play from Leonard. They eventually won the series in seven games.
It set up a matchup against the team with the best regular season record in the NBA — the Utah Jazz. Where — you guessed it — the Clippers once again lost the first two games before tying it up with back-to-back victories at home.
It’s the simple reason this year’s Clippers might actually have a shot at exorcising their demons. In last year’s Playoff collapse, former Clipper head coach Doc Rivers was criticized by the media for not making adjustments to the rotation, letting Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic expose former Clipper forward Montrezl Harrell’s defensive inability when Rivers could have played center Ivica Zubac. When Rivers departed in September, some outlets reported that this decision played a role in his exit.
On the contrary, current head coach Tyronn Lue hasn’t been shy about making adjustments. When Doncic torched Zubac on the pick and roll in the first series, Lue swapped him out of the starting lineup and inserted 6-foot-8 forward Batum.
It changed the complexion of not only the series but the one against the Jazz when he did the same. After going down 2-0, Lue once again made the change and the Clippers responded by tying the series.
And the team is finally playing with a little bit of edge.
Last year, they were all talk and no bite. But this year, they’re growling like a pitbull, even if a German Shepherd is staring over them ready for the kill.
Will the Clippers finally get over the hump and take down a real threat?
Only time will tell.
Anthony Gharib is a rising junior writing about all things Los Angeles sports. His column, “Anthony on LA,” runs every other Wednesday. He is also the sports editor for Summer Trojan.