It’s difficult to quantify the debacle that just occurred in the 2015 Western Conference semifinals when the team that fell apart has very little history to begin with.
The Clippers were one win away (or one quarter away) from reaching their first conference finals only to watch it all go up in a cloud of smoke about as thick as the L.A. smog. The Clippers blew a 3-1 series lead and were eliminated from the postseason in spectacular fashion with a Game 7 loss in Houston. It marked only the ninth time in NBA playoff history a team tossed away a 3-1 series lead.
”It’s disappointing,” Clippers forward Blake Griffin said. ”We were close, but close doesn’t really count. Almost doesn’t count. We were up 3-1 and didn’t put them away. We can’t look at anybody but ourselves.”
Griffin did all he could to avoid the collapse. He averaged nearly a triple-double during the series, and he posted 27 points and 11 rebounds in 44 minutes in Game 7. His fellow superstar, Chris Paul, also left it all on the court. CP3 had 26 points and 10 assists despite playing with a bad hamstring.
Paul summed up his frustration by quoting Will Ferrell’s character, Ricky Bobby, from “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.”
“Ricky Bobby, like [he] said, if you’re not first you’re last,” Paul told reporters. “Being close ain’t good enough.”
It’s another offseason in which Paul will have to figure what went wrong. Last season, he took much of the blame for the Clips’ playoff loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Paul failed to reach the conference finals yet again. Throughout the playoffs, ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy kept referring to CP3 as The Great Chris Paul. We’ll have to put “great” in quotes because “great” players are usually able to push their teams past the second round. “Great” players don’t blow 3-1 leads in the playoffs. And “great” players don’t let their teams blow a 19-point second-half lead in close-out games.
That’s exactly what happened in Game 6.
The Clippers basically had one foot in the Western Conference finals when the Rockets slammed the door on their foot with a historic comeback despite not having their best player, James Harden, on the court. During a key stretch in the fourth quarter, the Clippers looked gassed and couldn’t make a shot, and that included their two superstars. Paul went 1-for-5 while Griffin was 0-for-4 from the field. The role players couldn’t bail them out either, as J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes, DeAndre Jordan and Jamal Crawford all folded under pressure. When the final buzzer sounded, the Rockets had outscored the Clippers 40-15 in a 12-minute horror flick that will go down as the defining moment of the Chris Paul and Blake Griffin era.
“We just stopped playing,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said of Game 6. “You could see it. We got the lead and kind of got comfortable and started making plays that you shouldn’t make. Then we it got to eight (point lead) and we couldn’t make a shot.”
It would be unfair to say the Clippers choked against the Rockets, but that’s the CliffsNotes version of this story. When it was time to apply the knockout punch, the Clippers couldn’t pull the trigger. And Paul and Griffin where in the middle of it. Those are the two faces of the franchise. They’re the ones in the State Farm and Kia Motors commercials. When the Clippers needed their two stars to deliver an award-winning performance they both forgot their lines.
So what’s next for the Clippers? They’ll have to deal with a few in-house chores, most notably the contract of Jordan. The 6-11 center who blossomed into a defensive player of the year candidate this season is an unrestricted free agent. He has hinted he’d like to return to his home state of Texas.
It could be a long hot summer in L.A.