Are the Clippers really going to do this?
After Kawhi Leonard (and Paul George) chose them; after they fired Doc Rivers and brought in Tyronn Lue; after they added Rajon Rondo before the trade deadline; after they blew a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets in the bubble; after they seemingly ducked the Los Angeles Lakers by taking their last two games of the season; after the “L.A. Our Way” campaign; are the Clippers going to lose a 22-year-old Spanish-speaking Slovenian who (rightfully) called the NBA an easier league to score in?
Apparently so, because they just dropped the first two games to the Dallas Mavericks at home to begin their 2021 playoff run. Unlike the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics, who are at least going to their home floor for Game 3, the Clippers are now heading to Dallas, a matchup they seemingly tanked the end of their regular season to receive by sitting their stars and losing to the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder before the playoffs. The Rockets and Thunder haven’t been trying to win games since last season.
But the Clippers are here now and have only themselves to blame. They were the trendy NBA Finals pick ahead of the 2019-20 season coming off a Kawhi Leonard-led Toronto Raptors squad, a team he arguably should’ve stayed on if he wanted to continue having deep playoff runs. And even as that same Leonard, who may have been the NBA’s best player two years ago, dropped 41 points last night.
Let’s not kick dirt on them yet, because this isn’t over, but as Luka Dončić scores a combined 70 points on over 50 percent shooting in the first two games, as pending free agent Tim Hardaway Jr. erupts for 49 points on 17-for-27 from the field over those same two games, and as Kristaps Porzingis adds 20 points on 12 shots, we have little to point to regarding the possibility of the Clippers winning at least 4 of 5 to avoid an embarrassing loss.
Of all the favorites heading into the playoffs, the Clippers were arguably the ones who could least afford this. The Lakers have their championship. The 76ers should pimp walk to the Eastern Conference Finals at least. The Milwaukee Bucks might be OK depending on the next week or so. The Denver Nuggets are banged up, the Celtics are at least young and the Heat can retool very quickly this summer, and on it goes. The Clippers, with Paul George on a contract extension and Leonard likely opting out and heading for 2021 free agency, they couldn’t afford this start, and can’t afford the possible conclusion.
Though the process wasn’t perfect, they did try to accommodate the Leonard and George pairing with Rondo, Lue, and the departure of Montrezl Harrell. But the front office did have their missteps, too. They hilariously gave Luke Kennard four years and $64 million. Nicolas Batum is somehow third in minutes, and like others in the league, they’ve had their injury troubles up and down the roster.
Still, it’s a doomsday, panic-button, catastrophic scenario on the surface, and the Clippers need to avoid this first round calamity in order to preserve what’s best for their future.
Unfortunately for them, even that might not be good enough if they end up losing in round two anyway. It all starts with how this resonates with Leonard.
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