LOS ANGELES-CA (News4usonline) – Already with a postseason record for the most wins when trailing in a series, the Los Angeles Clippers failed to extend that mark as their season came to an end following a 130-103 loss Wednesday night.
Finding themselves trailing throughout the entire game, the Clippers failed to force a Game 7 as the Phoenix Suns and Chris Paul advance to the franchise’s first NBA Finals appearance since 1993.
“Extremely proud of this team,” Clippers guard Reggie Jackson said. “It sucks that it’s cut short, cut short of our ultimate goal this year of winning a championship. But couldn’t be prouder. Couldn’t be prouder. Like you said, dealing with all the adversity, injuries, everybody dealing with health protocols, guys in and out of the lineup, just not sure how everybody is feeling day-to-day. And the way this season just been kind of pushed, fast-paced, I’m proud of the way we battled. Never complained. This team just never made excuses.”
For the Clippers, a season that was mired with injuries and unfortunate timing still turned out to be one of the most successful in the franchise’s history. But for head coach Tyronn Lue and the rest of the team, anything but a chance to win a championship is a step short.
“Yeah, it is a bit of a shock that it’s over now,” Lue said. “I thought we ran out of gas. [The] first thing that goes when you get tired and fatigued is mentally. But hat’s off to Phoenix, they did a hell of a job.”
Lue added that despite all the injuries and tough scheduling, his guys stepped up time and time again.
“All season long, all playoffs long, guys have stepped up and been huge for us. That’s the type of team you want to have,” Lue said.
In a postseason that was all about adjustments, Lue went with a small ball lineup to start Game 6 as the team was without center Ivica Zubac for the second straight game.
After making the adjustment without the big man in a successful Game 5 victory, the Clippers’ small ball line-up failed to take advantage of the opportunities that were created due to the switches that took place on defense.
Instead, Paul, Devin Booker, and Deandre Ayton had their way against a fatigued Los Angeles team that played their 15th game in 30 days. The trio combined for 79 points and outpaced the Clippers’ top-three scorers by nearly 20 points.
For Paul, the trip to the finals will be the first-ever in his 16-year career for the veteran. Getting this monkey off his back against his long-time former team seems all but fitting as the Suns managed to win two of the three games at Staples Center throughout the series. Paul, who scored 31 of his game-high 41 points in the second half, said it was up to him to help his team push through in this road game in front of a hostile crowd.
“You just always know these closeout games are tough,” Paul said. “I watch every game every night and you just always see the Clippers, they make a run. Third quarter, fourth quarter, they just get it going. Seemed like that was happening.”
Paul dominated the game against his former team all night long, having his way with his patent mid-range jumper and knocking down three-pointer after three-pointer when the Clippers left him wide-open and dared him to shot.
The 36-year-old veteran ended his night with playoff career-high 41 points and 8 assists as he single-handily carried the Suns to a crucial close-out victory on his old stomping grounds.
For Paul George and the Clippers, their first-ever chance at an NBA Finals will have to wait another season. The superstar set multiple franchise postseason records during the run and even joined the likes of Michael Jordan and LeBron James in being the only players in postseason history to score over 20 points in 18 straight games.
But despite all the personal accolades, George who played the most minutes in the postseason coming into this Game 6, talked about the fatigue he and his entire team played through.
“There’s no excuses, healthy or unhealthy,” George said. “You’re literally one possession in each game up to this point, one possession in each one of those games to this series being a lot different. But at the same time, you understand the healthiest team usually wins at this time. We were very unfortunate to be on the bad side of that.”
George who ended his night with yet another 20 plus point performance failed to capitalize on the looks he got beyond the arc as he went 1 of 6 from deep on the night. As a team the Clippers yet again found themselves ice cold from the three-point line, going 12 for 39 on the night.
A strength all season long, tired legs, and a rash of injuries finally caught up to a Los Angeles team that fought from behind all postseason long.
Despite reaching the franchise’s first Western Conference Finals appearance, many questions will now begin to arise around the status of Kawhi Leonard. After missing the team’s last eight postseason games due to a knee injury, the All-Star’s contract allows the guard to walk away during the upcoming off-season.
Much chatter after the Clippers’ poor start to the postseason resulted in many believing that Leonard was set to leave the team if they failed to reach the Finals. But now with a knee injury and fresh off a 30th birthday, a major decision for Leonard and the Clippers organization awaits them in the off-season.
If the superstar were to walk, the void left by him is clearly irreplicable and many questions about the direction of the franchise will begin to surface. If he stays, then the pieces that the team adds and subtracts during the off-season become that more instrumental in making another postseason run.
For now, a long and saddening postseason will hover around the franchise until the pain and anguish of this loss go away. If the organization can take solace in anything, it should be in knowing that they have the right head coach for the job. With Lue at the helm, there is one thing many Clipper fans have learned about teams coached by him, they will fight to the end.
“When I think back to this season, I’ll think of the playoff run we had,” Lue said. “What we did this year was special. I hope we can build off this going into next season.”
Featured Image Caption: June 30, 2021-Chris Paul of the Phoenix Suns (3) fires up a jump shot in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Clippers. Paul scored 41 points to lead the Suns to a 130-103 win at STAPLES Center. With the win, Phoenix wins the series against the Clippers, 4-2, and advance to the NBA Finals. Photo credit: Mark Hammond/News4usonline