While the new Clippers season is just a couple of weeks young, the calendar year has finally reached its end. 2020 had a few ups and certainly had an overwhelming amount of downs, but it also left us with moments that will be talked about for years to come. To honor that ending, I am handing out some awards to the 2020 Clippers.
Along with the chaos happening around the world, the basketball world was shaken up too. We had basketball, and then we didn’t, and then we did again…sort of. For better or worse, the NBA did its best to deliver an enjoyable distraction to what the world was offering. This hectic year and season provided us with several memorable Clippers moments that deserve some recognition. In a brief trip down memory lane, here are some performances that you may recall.
Your 2020 Clippers Awards:
BEST BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE: Ivica Zubac vs. Mavericks (8/06)
Clippers fans had been clamoring for more Zubac all season long, and in the bubble they got their wish. The Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Dallas Mavericks 126-111 behind Zubac’s 21 points and 15 rebounds on 10-10 shooting from the field. What’s significant about this game is the narrative that preceded it. During the previous game, the Clippers fell to the Phoenix Suns 117-115 by way of a Devin Booker game-winner that followed a costly Zubac turnover. Zu had played very well in that game and earned himself rare fourth quarter minutes, but the late turnover overshadowed a stellar 13 point, 12 rebound performance, which led to frustrated onlookers making false claims that Zu shouldn’t play big minutes. So, it was nice for all to see Zu perform excellently the very next game; a game that would really catapult Zubac the remainder of the season.
BEST SUPPORTING PERFORMANCE: Rodney McGruder vs. Trailblazers (8/08)
Where were you the day Rodney McGruder iced the Portland Trailblazers?
No matter how Doc Rivers sugar coated it, the Clippers had no interest in winning this game. They were without Kawhi Leonard (rest), Patrick Beverley (injury), and Montrezl Harrell (personal), and sat Lou Williams, Marcus Morris, and Paul George during the fourth quarter of this tightly contested game. Without all those guys on the court somebody had to step up to the plate, and Rodney was there to deliver. His statline won’t jump off the page (7 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist), but his steady defense and late-game heroics earned him a game-high +17.
In the grand scheme of things, this performance didn’t matter much. But it was a fun change from the not so fun 2020 Clippers, and a nice performance from Rodney, who had a very down season otherwise.
BEST WIN: Clippers @ Rockets (3/05)
Unlike the fun Clippers-Celtics games, Clippers-Rockets games are usually quite annoying. The tension between players is always visible, there’s tons of petty post-game quotes and antics, and the Rockets’ unorthodox style makes games wonky and unenjoyable.
Houston was rolling at this point of the season, having just won six of seven games and doing it with their newly acclimated “small-ball” lineup. The Clippers were also playing well, and were in the midst of a five-game win streak. As the two teams met, something had to give. The Clippers won 120-105 and led by as many as 30 at one point before giving away some points during garbage time. Montrezl Harrell and Ivica Zubac combined for 36 points and 22 rebounds while making “small ball” look comical. The performance was satisfying and was confirmation that the streak of wins wasn’t a fluke.
WORST LOSS: Nuggets @ Clippers (9/15)
I couldn’t talk about the Clippers’ 2020 without addressing the worst part of it. I tried to talk myself into awarding the worst loss to the recent 51-point pounding that the Clippers took from the Dallas Mavericks, but considering that it was just the third game of the season and that the Clippers were missing key players, that game is ultimately insignificant. In my eyes, there’s only one game deserving of this recognition and that’s game 7 vs the Denver Nuggets.
The Clippers blew a double-digit lead for the third consecutive game as Kawhi and PG combined to shoot 2 of 18 in the second half without scoring any points in the fourth quarter. As the team folded down the stretch, the Clippers executed their most disappointing loss in the franchise’s history.
You could make the case that games 5 and 6 were more deserving to be here, as those hurt more and certainly took the wind out of the Clippers’ sails. But given the history this franchise had with game 7 against the Rockets back in 2015, I thought this team had better players and a better chance to change their label.
Let’s leave this one in 2020 and hope to not come across a similar situation five years from now.
BEST GAME: Clippers @ Celtics (2/13)
My clear-cut, runaway for game of the year was Celtics @ Clippers, an overtime thriller at Staples Center that showcased both Kawhi and PG on the court together for the first time all season. Then I remembered that this game happened in 2019. Bummer. But then I thought harder and concluded that the second Clippers-Celtics game was actually the better of the two.
Yes, I know this was a loss. However, this was just fun and entertaining basketball on the highest level. The game was all sorts of wild: Lou Williams totalled 35 points on 33 shots, Marcus Smart had 31 points, Marcus Morris returned to Boston and hit some big shots, Jayson Tatum scored 39 and outplayed Kawhi Leonard on both ends of the court, and three players logged 48 minutes. TD Garden was incredibly raucous and fueled the Celtics throughout. Ultimately, the Clippers were first to run out of gas and lost the game 141-133 in double overtime.
I wish that the Clippers somehow were able to play the Celtics every game; those games are always entertaining.
(BONUS) COOLEST CLIPPER: Serge Ibaka
Let me start by saying this: this is Lou Williams’ award year in and year out, and he’ll be deserving of it forever. However, I’m claiming voter fatigue and handing this award to Serge Ibaka. Who’s cooler than this guy? Yes, Serge is a huge plus to have on the court, but he’s bringing much more to the team than just that. I mean seriously, has anyone ever seen Kawhi smile so much? Anybody who can get the “Fun Guy” to actually be fun when the cameras are around is worthy of this award.
Clippers basketball was a rollercoaster ride this past year, per usual. More significantly, 2020 was a rollercoaster ride that everyone had to endure. I think I speak for everybody when I say I am hopeful that the new year brings us better times; not just as fans of the Clippers, but as human beings.
Thank you all for your constant support of 213Hoops. I look forward to continuing to grow the community with you all in 2021, and to another season of shared Clippers memories. Happy New Year!