A hard reality check for Clippers

Chris Paul going to the basket against the Trailblazers.

Everyone wants the final payout but nobody wants to do the work. The grind is more unappreciated than the glory. Instant success has replaced building a foundation. That’s the Los Angeles Clippers’ problem. That’s good and bad.

It’s good because after years of being an NBA doormat, the Clippers have built a formula of winning consistently the past few years. Prior to the 2011-2012 season the Clippers had only two other winning seasons, dating all the way back to the 1991-1992 NBA year.

They’ve been among the league’s best teams since. On the flip side of that coin, LA fans want more. They don’t care about what happened in 1992. They expect a championship now. The champagne dance is going to have to wait at least another year, though.

There will be no cigar-chomping in the team’s locker room this season, not after the Clippers went down in defeat to the Portland Trailblazers in the first round of the NBA playoffs in six games.

Blake Griffin goes in for the dunk against Portland.
Blake Griffin goes in for the dunk against Portland. Photo by Kevin Reece/News4usonline.com

This latest setback from the Clippers is not going to sit well with a lot of fans. It should not. The bar has been set. The expectations have been high for a while. That was tempered down a lot when the Clippers lost Chris Paul and Blake Griffin to season-ending injuries in Game 4.

With their megastars out of the lineup, the Clippers didn’t have the offensive firepower to offset Portland’s hotshot guard combo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.

The six-game defeat also showed the Clippers, outside of Jamal Crawford, don’t have enough scoring explosiveness from the small forward position, again an Achilles heel. And once again, the Clippers don’t look as athletic as they did three years ago.

Without Paul and Griffin, the Clippers are an aged and slow team, especially on their defensive rotations.

Right now, that’s neither here or there. The only thing that is of concern is that another promising season for the Clippers has ended with a limp finish. The Clippers have found out these last few seasons that unexpected turbulence is lurking around every corner.

They’re probably sick of it, too. Like their fans, the Clippers want to win an NBA title. The only problem with that is that a team just doesn’t get to waltz to a championship based on popularity polls and expert predictions.

The Clippers had a hard time playing defense against Portland's Damian Lillard once Chris Paul and Blake Griffin went down to injuries in the first round NBA playoffs. Photo by Kevin Reece/News4usonline.com
The Clippers had a hard time playing defense against Portland’s Damian Lillard once Chris Paul and Blake Griffin went down to injuries in the first round NBA playoffs. Photo by Kevin Reece/News4usonline.com

That hasn’t stopped the Golden Warriors from doing it, which puts the Clippers and their head coach in an uncomfortable headlock of having to win, and win now. Los Angeles is thirsty for another NBA championship. Ever since Paul was shipped over to the Clippers to hook up with Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, LA’s other team has been expected to deliver the goods.

It hasn’t worked out that way, yet.

Year 3 in the Los Angeles Clippers watch under coach Doc Rivers ended with the same type of disappointment as the other two seasons: heartache. When Rivers first took over the reins of the Clippers as coach and president of basketball operations, there was such a buzz and expectation around the franchise that it poured into elation.

Gone were the days that the Clippers were just creampuffs for other teams to trample over. After all, Lob City was in full force, at the height of its glory with Paul, Jordan and Griffin clowning folks with one spectacular play after another.

They were making it rain over the rest of the league with dunks and ESPN’s SportsCenter Top Ten plays regularly. Rivers took over in 2013, and quickly decided to put an end to Lob City.

Some real basketball was going to be played here. That decision looks as if it took the air out of the Clipper’s fun balloon. Three years ago, the Clippers were viewed as young and athletic. They’ve aged pretty quickly.

The Clippers had a difficult time reaching the basket against the Trailblazers. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com
The Clippers had a difficult time reaching the basket against the Trailblazers. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com

The Clippers are all sorts of brokenness, whether it is injuries or emotional scars left behind from another unfulfilled season.

Three years ago, the Clippers franchise had to deal with the Donald Sterling debacle and was driven out of the playoffs by the Oklahoma City Thunder. Last year, rolling to a 3-1 semifinal round lead against the Houston Rockets, the Clippers looked like they ran out of gas.

The Rockets put the pedal to the medal in the fourth quarter of Game 6 and finished the Clippers off with a comeback that rocked the team to its core. If that wasn’t enough drama, the team came close to close to losing Jordan in the summer to the Dallas Mavericks.

They kept Jordan, but lost Griffin for a large chunk of the regular season. With that being said, the Clippers still finished fourth in the Western Conference, winning 53 games. The first two years under Rivers, the Clippers won 57 and 56 games, respectively.

They even won a Pacific Division title that first season. That’s not good enough for this market. That’s why they brought Rivers here in the first place, to take them over the hump. It has happened yet, but the faithful has to stay just that-faithful.

This is not a time to panic and overreact. This team is not cursed as some people would like for you to think. Up until the Portland series, the Clippers have not not played good enough to be in the NBA Finals. It is as simple as that.

Last season, the Clippers didn’t advance to the Western Conference Finals because of their defensive apathy and inability to close out a series. That case can be made for the year before when the Clippers lost to OKC in six games. This is not about curses.

This is about guys stepping up their game in the postseason and getting the right puzzles around Paul, Griffin and Jordan. There is no need to blow this team up as some pundits have suggested. San Antonio is coming to the end of their run. OKC and their dynamic duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook look like they may dissipate soon.

The Los Angeles Lakers are afterthoughts at the moment. The Houston Rockets are a complete mess. The Memphis Grizzlies haven’t been the same team since they fired coach Lionel Hollins. Outside of the Golden State Warriors and a promising Minnesota team, the Clippers are still going to be right there in the mix.

But moving forward, they are going to have to do lot better than be in the thick of things. The Clippers are going to need to move to the next level.

Dennis J. Freeman
About Dennis J. Freeman 1057 Articles
Dennis covers the NFL (San Diego Chargers), NBA (Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers), Major League Baseball (Los Angeles Dodgers) and NCAA sports (USC, UCLA, Long Beach State). As a professional journalist, Dennis has also covered and written on topics such as civil rights, politics and social justice. Dennis is a graduate of Howard University.