Yes, the Los Angeles Clippers know they’re in a dogfight with the Houston Rockets. Yes, the Clippers had egg put on their faces with that 124-103 defeat to the Rockets in Game 5. Yes, the Clippers need to seal the deal in Game 6 at Staples Center to move on to the Western Conference Finals. Despite their Game 5 setback, the Clippers are in a good position to knock off the second straight Texas team they’ve faced in the postseason. They’re in this spot because this a different squad than the one that went through the Donald Sterling debacle a year ago. And not just in the physical makeup department. They have a different mantra. Quite frankly, they are more tougher, more grittier, and a little bit more wiser.
Now that won’t be proven until the Clippers close out the Rockets to move on to the next round. But you can sense that their attitude about playing the game overall is different. This is different. Their approach to the postseason. The atmosphere around the team feels different. The Clippers are different. Just ask James Harden and the Houston Rockets. People are not laughing at them the way they used anymore. Today is quite contrast to the popularity of the team less than a decade ago. Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan, the core of the Clippers for the last several years, are different players than what the team has been accustomed to.
The Clippers have brought in talented players, but not at the level of the Griffin, Paul and Jordan, especially all at one time. LA’s newest Big Three is leading the way under second-year coach Doc Rivers to higher heights, one being one victory away from advancing to the Western Conference Finals. A couple of years ago, the Clippers were swept out of the playoffs by the San Antonio Spurs. The Clippers, the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, took out the Spurs in seven games in the first round, giving way to a new team to crowned as NBA champion this year.
The Clippers’ bench, marginalized by the media, have come up big with Austin Rivers, Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Jamal Crawford doing work against the Spurs, and now the Rockets. In order for the Clippers to win the series against the Rockets, the Clippers will need their bench to come through again. Perhaps the biggest reason the Clippers are playing different is coach Doc Rivers. In his second season, Rivers gets his players to play at peak levels. And the one thing you notice about a Rivers’ coached team-they play hard-all the time. There is no slack up in effort. And that’s what the Clippers need to get to the next level.