Two months ago, Clippers guard/forward, Paul George, spoke to Sports Illustrated’s Farbod Esnaashari. The overwhelming message of the interview was, in George’s own words, this, ‘Immediately, we expected to come in and win it all.’
Flash forward to the final minutes of the Western Conference Semi-Finals and the Clippers are on the verge of an embarrassing Game Seven defeat to the Denver Nuggets. The Clippers had been leading this series three games to one before collapsing in hilarious form, allowing the Nuggets to overcome three consecutive double-digit deficits.
The two Clippers’ stars, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, appear to be taking the front of the blame. Although much of the basketball cognescenti has decided to give Leonard a pass, despite not registering a made field goal in the entire fourth quarter of a game seven. Could you imagine what the media reaction would be if it was LeBron James instead of Kawhi? But that’s a different discussion for a different day.
So, the Clippers failed to reach the Western Conferennce Finals despite going all in. The Clippers traded away five future first round picks (one protected), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari for George last summer. And well, who could blame them? Every single GM and front office in the NBA would make that move ten out of ten times to be able to get George and Kawhi together. But it didn’t work out.
As Oklahoma City Thunder general manager, Sam Presti, posited the famous Tribe Called Quest axiom, ‘scared money don’t make none’. And so the Clippers must be applauded for going for boom or bust. But it went bust. Now, the Clippers must pick up the pieces, assess the damage and prepare for the fallout.
One of the key factors at play in this Clippers fallout of failure is their head coach, Doc Rivers. Doc Rivers is very talented head coach. Let’s not make any assumptions about that. Rivers won a ring as head coach of the Boston Celtics back in 2008. However, the former point guard has been on the opposite side of three 3-1 comebacks. Once with the Orlando Magic in 2003, once with the Clippers in 2015 and now with the Clippers again in 2020.
As Fox Sports’ Nick Wright mused, ‘Doc blew a 3-1 lead in the Bush administration, the Obama administration, and the Trump administration. Doesn’t matter who’s in office, doesn’t matter what year it is. If you need a 3-1 lead blown, you know who to call.’ Wright’s television infused hyperbole aside, the point still stands. This is not a one off issue with Rivers. And it’s especially damning when you examine the talented roster he has as well as the unsavoury demeanour of most of this Clippers team.
This Clippers team is mentally weak at the moment. Outside of Kawhi, what has any of this Clippers roster won? If you were being extremely harsh then you could say this Clippers team is full of posers, chokers, high-school bullies who act tough until they get socked in the jaw then proceed to run home to their mothers. This is not a winning mentality. The Clippers blew a 15 point lead in Game Five, a 19 point lead in Game Six and they appeared scared to touch the basketball in the fourth quarter of Game Seven nevermind score it.
Rivers is slow to read the game. Slow to make adjustments on the fly. Scared to make significant changes within the game or to bench his premier players when they’re not playing well. Sure, the Clippers could trade half their roster away and start again. After all it is boom or bust and the bust has to mean something. But the more likely scenario is that the Clippers seek out a culture change any way possible. And the easiest, if not the most obvious way to go about that is to move on from Doc Rivers.
Clippers owner Steve Balmer could trade Rivers. The head coach has been traded before. Back in 2013, the Celtics traded Rivers to the Clippers for a 2015 first round pick. This has set the precedent for Rivers to be traded again. Maybe to Philadelphia? Maybe to Houston? Whatever the case, the Clippers plan to go all-in has backfired and heads have to roll as a result. Starting with Doc Rivers.