Shortly after the Los Angeles Clippers ’fall season, coach Doc Rivers said he could aim for him because the team didn’t live up to his huge championship expectations.
After the Clippers completely disbanded for a third straight game in a 104-89 loss to the Denver Nuggets in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, Rivers said the title expectations did not they were too heavy for their team, though the Clippers did not achieve what many thought the entire season would be a showdown in the Western Finals with the Los Angeles Lakers.
“We didn’t meet them,” Rivers said of expectations. “That’s the bottom line. I’m the coach and I̵7;ll be to blame. But we didn’t live up to our expectations, clearly, because if we did, we would keep playing.”
The Clippers squandered a 3-1 lead in the best of seven series in an epic manner. They lost double-digit advantages of 16, 19 and 12 points in the last three games, respectively, as the final drought of the franchise’s Western conference reached the age of 50.
Rivers is the only coach in NBA history to lose a 3-1 lead in three playoff series, having done so with the Clippers in the 2015 Western semifinals against Houston Rockets and with the Orlando Magic in the first round against the Detroit Pistons in 2003.
This team, however, was considered a championship contender from the time the Clippers signed Kawhi Leonard on free agency and traded for Paul George.
“We’re pissed off,” said Lou Williams, who fought and shot 4-on-27 from beyond the arc of the series. “Simple and straightforward, we’re angry. We went up 3-1. We had two chances to win this series, and we didn’t.”
Williams added, “I think a lot of the problems we ran into, talent saved us. Chemistry didn’t. In this series, we failed.”
Leonard, two-time MVP of the NBA Finals, who led the Toronto Raptors to a championship last season before signing with LA in free agency, said the Clippers need to improve their basketball IQ and develop chemistry , as do the championship teams, after their collapse.
“We just couldn’t shoot,” said Leonard, who shot 1-on-11 in the second half. “It’s when it comes to team chemistry, knowing what we should run to get the ball in points or just if someone duplicates or packs the paint, tries to get other guys to shoot and we need to know what exact points we need be it.
“And you know, you have to keep going and be smarter as a team. Become smarter. The basketball IQ needs to improve.”
In the biggest game of the season, Leonard and George combined to shoot 10 to 38, including 4 to 18 from beyond the arc, with a total of 24 points in Game 7. Once things went starting to get rid of in the second half in the third straight game, the Clippers looked completely paralyzed and the Nuggets outscored them 50-28 in the final 22 minutes, 50 seconds.
“I never felt comfortable. I just wasn’t,” Rivers said of the Clippers’ 3-1 series lead. “I just knew when it came to conditioning, for example, we had guys who just couldn’t play for minutes, and that’s hard, you know. I mean, there were two or three times a night where we really started doing it. run, and a guy I had to go out. I mean, that’s what it is. So no, I never felt comfortable. I can say it up front. I told our coaches. “
It’s been an all-season struggle for the Clippers to find chemistry. Leonard and George were slowly returning from the injuries that came into the season. Tangling the two stars with last season’s group of veterans who overcame it was hard work. In addition, the Clippers handled the constant interruptions of injuries to mid-season additions. Once they began to show a vision of reunion, the coronavirus pandemic struck and the season stalled for more than four months.
Shortly after they reached the bubble for the resumption of the season, life was hampered and the Clippers were disturbed by Montrezl Harrell, Williams and Patrick Beverley, who had to leave for the funerals of their loved ones. The three protagonists wasted their time because they were out of the bubble and had to be quarantined. Harrell was off the floor for a month.
“We dealt with a lot of adversity,” said George, who shot 1-on-7 in the second half Tuesday. “For good reason. You know, the boys had to go home for legitimate reasons. We wasted a lot of time along with injuries in the regular season and inside the bubble.”
George said the organization has talked about how the Clippers are built to fight for more than this season. But the team will take a while to overcome the last stain of a franchise history full of losses and lovelessness.
“It was an obvious pressure to live up to the expectations of the title,” George said. “But as a player, I mean, you want that … It’s not a blow-out. The fact is that we didn’t live up to that expectation.
“But I think, internally, we’ve always felt that this is not a year of championship or bankruptcy. You know, we can only improve better the longer we are together and the more we are around each other. The more chemistry for [the] group, better. I think this is really the story of this season’s tape. We just didn’t have enough time together. “