LOS ANGELES, CA-Reality just set in. Just a week ago, the Los Angeles Clippers were still in the hunt for a playoff berth. But by the time the Clippers stumbled their way to the last game of the regular season against the Los Angeles Lakers, those postseason aspirations had evaporated.
Losing their last four games, and six of their last 10 contests, pretty much sealed the Clippers’ summer plans. But they gave it a good fight. For a team that lost two superstar players in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin to trades, the Clippers did what many did not think would be possible, and that is put themselves in position to make the postseason.
Paul was shipped to Houston over the summer. In a trade that may have stung a little bit more, Griffin was sent packing to Detroit early in the season. For a while, the Clippers played like they were in shock of losing such a prime-time athlete like Griffin.
“I think we moved past that,” said guard Tyrone Wallace. “When it happened, I think initially guys didn’t know what to think about it, but after that we were trying to go out there and win every game; we knew that we could.”
Up to a week ago, Doc Rivers had his team in contention for that last playoff spot. That is a testimony in itself to the coaching of Rivers and his staff, which had to overcome the loss of starting point guard Patrick Beverly to a season-ending injury, and had to contend with the often-plagued maladies that submarined the playing time of Danilo Gallinari and Milos Teodosic.
The Clippers wrapped up their season finale with a starting lineup of Wesley Johnson, DeAndre Jordan, Tobias Harris, Austin Rivers, and Sindarius Thornwell, and not the anticipated big-name playoff entries of past years. Still, this season was a success on many levels for the Clippers (42-40) in that they were able to find young jewels like C.J. Williams, Jawun Evans and Montrezl Harrell.
Interesting enough, a couple of those young studs, like Williams, Thornwell, and Wallace, came by way of the Clippers G-League team, Agua Caliente.
“I think the opportunity with the two-way contract is expanding the market for players to stay [in the G-League rather than going overseas],” Williams said. “You want to take a chance and try to reach the high level, the NBA. At the same time, some guys have responsibilities, some guys have families, so you have to make tough decisions sometimes to go overseas and make some money. I think with the two-way contracts and the expansion of the G-League it’s becoming easier for guys to make the decision to stay home and work on their dream.”
Clippers coach Doc Rivers would much rather prefer his team be in preparation for the postseason than on the outside looking in. But shaping and molding players like Williams mandated a different type of challenge for Rivers.
“I actually enjoyed it,” Doc Rivers said after the Lakers defeated the Clippers, 115-100. “I’d still rather contend for a title, don’t get me wrong but I really enjoyed this year. I enjoyed coaching the guys. I enjoyed really everybody. All the G-League guys who are now going to get signed to NBA contracts most likely, I had a great time this year. What I don’t like is tomorrow. I’d rather be preparing for a first-round opponent. I get all the injury stuff but I’m just so competitive, I don’t like going home. I just don’t.”
Success would not be what the Lakers would consider they were able to master this season. In many ways, with the constant hyperbole being thrust on point guard Lonzo Ball and his surrounding cast, this season turned out to be another disappointing bust for the Purple and Gold.
The Lakers finished 11th in the Western Conference, improved their win total by nine (35-47, 2017-2018; 26-56, 2016-2017), and look like a team missing some serious components for higher achievement. One might conclude that all the gloss and hype around the Lakers turned out to be nothing more than a bunch of wolf tickets being sold to their fan base.
And so, on paper, what had the potential of being one of the NBA’s enticing matchups of the season, turned out to be a contest where the regular season starters sat and watched their underlings perform in a meaningless game. This game between the Clippers and Lakers was more about who did not suit and play as opposed to who actually took to the court.
Let’s see, for the Lakers, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Isaiah Thomas and Kyle Kuzma were the ones that went MIA on this game. Lou Williams was a non-dress attendee for the Clippers. The final game of the regular season proved star power really matters in this league.
Lakers guard Josh Hart sure played like he’s one with his 30 points against the Clippers. Hart connected on seven of his nine 3-point attempts enroute to his big game.
“The game started to slow down for me,” Hart said. “The big playmakers are out so we needed to be a little bit more