The Clippers Choked

One of the biggest ones ever.

Jim Rome
September 16, 2020 - 10:20 am
Paul George and Kawhi Leonard

USA Today


And now it’s time to talk about the Los Angeles Clippers. And if you’re a Clipper fan from back in the day, whether you grew up rooting for Michael Cage and had a Keith Closs jersey, or maybe you jumped on the bandwagon last summer, this is going to hurt you a helluva lot more than it hurts me.  In fact, it won’t hurt me at all, because I don’t root; I don’t care who wins or loses: all I care about is having something to talk about.  And the Clippers sure as hell have given me that. 

There’s a word for what you just witnessed. It’s a word I don’t like to use very often because it’s one of the worst things you can say about an individual or a team. And that word is choke. And that was a complete and utter choke job. A choke of epic proportions. That was a triple choke. Three chokes stacked on top of each other.

Up 3-1 in the series and with a double-digit lead in Game 5, they choked.

Up 3-2 in the series and with a double-digit lead in Game 6, they choked again.

Tied 3-3 in the series and with a double-digit lead in Game 7, they choked again.

And you don’t have to dig too hard to find out the biggest chokers: Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

Pandemic P was in full effect last night. He went 4 of 16 for 10 points. He had more turnovers than made baskets. And it wasn’t just that he was missing shots. He wasn’t getting anywhere close.

That was fairly wide open look and he slammed it off the side of the backboard. Who does that? How do you do that?

Then again, pretty hard to hit a three when you’ve got both your hands wrapped around your own throat. And as bad as PG was shooting, Kawhi was even worse.

6 of 22 for 14 points. 6 of 22 in a Game 7. At times, I forgot he was on the floor. That is totally and completely unacceptable. If Kawhi is the player everyone made him out to be, he can’t be disappearing like that. Unless there’s something going on that we don’t know about, he cannot be vanishing like that in the second half of Game 7.

Seriously, where the hell were Paul George and Kawhi Leonard last night? Completely and utterly manned down. Shrank from the moment. When the going got tough, they split. They couldn’t handle it. We had been told all along that LA was built for moments like this, but they weren’t. They crumbled. They fell apart. They imploded.

As was noted before the game, Kawhi and PG have never faced the pressure and scrutiny that LeBron has dealt with for nearly his entire career. They’ve pretty much skated on that. They’ve gotten the reputations of being great players, but haven’t had to put up with the LeBron level of pressure, criticism, and scrutiny. And the moment they faced some pressure, they fell apart. Absolutely crumbled. Blew double-digit leads in three straight games and got bounced in the second round.

And no, they’re not the only ones to blame, but hell yes, that’s where we’re going to start.  But yes, there is plenty of blame to go around. For example, the supporting cast didn’t do jack last night. 

And as great a coach as Doc Rivers is, it’s never a good look to have not one, not two, but three blown 3-1 series leads on your resume. He owned it after the game and he’s going to take plenty: enough that you have to wonder whether or he might actually be on thin ice: doc didn’t have a good series: at all and the Clippers weren’t ready for the Nuggets: hell, I’d argue they weren’t ready for the bubble….and a lot of that is on Doc, the guy who talked about WINNING THE WAIT.  BUT JUST MAKE DAMN SURE, Pandemic P and Kawhi don’t skate here. 

At some point, when a team is melting down in three straight games, a superstar stands up and takes over. He says I’ve got this and carries his team. Neither of those guys did that at any point. They melted. They vanished. You think LeBron would ever let something like that happen on his watch?  You think Jimmy Butler would ever let something like that happen on his watch? Hell no. 

Yet these two dudes were nowhere to be found when it mattered most: they did nothing to stop the bleeding. Nothing.  .. It was like the Nuggets were playing against five random guys in black jerseys, not like the Nuggets were playing against two future Hall of Famers.

Sure, Doc will get some blame because the coach is always going to get blame. But Kawhi and Paul deserve way more than he does. 

If you want to come for Giannis when Milwaukee bows out in the second round, you better come for Kawhi and PG when the Clippers choke out in the second round. If you bashed LeBron in the past, you better be hammering the Kawhi and PG right now.

Want more evidence? Pandemic P and Kawhi went 0 for 11 in the fourth quarter. 0 for 11 for 0 points in the fourth quarter of a Game 7.

And it’s not like they were showing up on the defensive end either. If you’re an alleged superstar and you do that, you’re going to take plenty of heat. And you’re going to deserve it.

Jamal Murray had more points in the game than the Clippers team had in the second half.

So what the hell do you tanks have to say for yourselves? You better have some good answers to the hard questions. Of course, they didn’t.  Lou Williams: "I think a lot of the issues that we ran into, talent bailed us out. Chemistry it didn't. In this series, it failed us."

There’s something to that. Like the fact that they would just go to sleep in this series and the Dallas series and then Kawhi or Pandemic P would bail them out. And that was a quote unquote strategy that worked, until it didn’t.

Then there was this answer from Kawhi: "We just couldn't make no shots. That's when it comes to the team chemistry, knowing what we should run to get the ball in spots or just if someone's getting doubled or they're packing the paint, try to make other guys make shots, and we gotta know what exact spots we need to be. And you know, just gotta carry over and get smarter as a team. Get smarter. Basketball IQ got to get better."

Nope. Sorry. That’s not good. When you’re a superstar and you go 1 for 11 from the field in the second half, that’s not about getting better basketball IQ. You don’t have to be smarter to go 2 for 11 or 3 for 11. You have to make shots. And I get it, sometimes the ball just won’t go in the hoop, but then you have to get stops at the other end, and that wasn’t happening either.

And then there was Paul George: “It's our first year together. You can't even say we want to change our roster. We like what we've got. I mean, we've been saying it all year. It's just about chemistry, being together. The more we can be together, the better we'll be. It's year one. We've got a lot to reflect on. A lot to look at going forward and to get better with."

Dude…what are you talking about? Year One? The team did not mortgage its future last summer to conduct a long-term experiment. This is not a rebuilding project. This is not about TRUSTING THE PROCESS. This was supposed to be plug and play. Last year, the Clippers gave the Warriors all they could handle. Then you and Kawhi arrive and it’s supposed to be championship time.

Instead, you get bounced in the second round. The organization didn’t give up all the draft picks they gave up to get to the second round and go home. Think about all the heat James Harden and Russell Westbrook have taken after they lost in the second round. Kawhi and PG should be getting that and then some, because they were supposed to be so much better.

Two Hall of Fame players, an all-defensive team member, two sixth men of the year, a Hall of Fame coach, and you’re packing your bags.

Clearly there were chemistry issues with this team. That is extremely obvious. Starting with the fact that it’s not totally clear who the leader is. It sure doesn’t seem like its Kawhi or PG.

And maybe there is stuff going on that we don’t know about. And I’m aware of the fact that they had multiple members of the team who left the bubble for periods of time. And I know that living in the bubble sucks.

But the Nuggets showed up in Florida with eight healthy players. And they were in the bubble for just as long. They had similar challenges to the Clippers and they made it work. They’re staying on and the Clippers are going home. The fact that they didn’t even make the conference finals is a catastrophe: and the only worse is not seeing it for what it is: one of the biggest choke jobs ever.