As you may already be aware, in the absence of live NBA basketball (which could return soon apparently), Prime Ticket has been showing Classic Clippers basketball games during May. The final two installments in their series of games drop tonight and Saturday, and feature replays from the Clippers’ 2006 playoff run.
You may not be aware of the importance of those playoffs to the blog you are reading at present and its antecedents (yes, plural — there’s a lot of history here).
In May of 2006, I was a semi-retired technology executive and stay-at-home dad with a serious NBA habit — specifically, I was a Clippers fan, when such a thing was almost unheard of. My wife at the time (who is my ex-wife now, for reasons you can probably guess and some you cannot, but it’s a long story) also worked in tech, and had been encouraging me to “blog” as an outlet for my NBA obsession. On May 4, 2006, I signed up at blogger.com and clippernation.blogspot.com was born.
About five months later, I was recruited by SBNation to be their Clippers writer, and ClipsNation was launched on September 25, 2006. Although the team of writers there has since moved on to form 213Hoops, the 13 plus year run of ClipsNation remains impressive. No other Clippers-centric blog came close to the influence of ClipsNation in the Clippers fan community, and I take great pride in that.
But let’s go back to 2006 shall we?
Prime Ticket is showing Game 5 of the Clippers first round series against the Nuggets from April 30, 2006 tonight, and game 4 from the second round series against the Suns from May 14 on Saturday night. It just so happens that my clippernation blog launched on May 4, after the conclusion of round one, but before round two had commenced. In other words, right in the window between these two games.
Here’s what I’m going to do next… I’m going to watch the Clippers-Nuggets game tonight, and the Clippers-Suns game on Saturday, and then read the recaps I wrote at the time. Maybe I’ll come back here to 213Hoops to reminisce some more as well.
But we need a bit more context first.
The first and most important thing to remember about 2006 is that the Clippers were the SIXTH seed, but nonetheless had home court advantage in Round 1 against the Nuggets. That’s because 2006 was the second (and final) year of a failed NBA scheme to give an advantage to the three division winners in each conference (even though Divisions in the NBA are essentially meaningless). So the Nuggets, who had the seventh worst record in the West that season, got the three seed for winning the dreadful-at-the-time Northwest Division.
Meanwhile, perhaps the most important game of the regular season was the Clippers LOSS at Memphis on April 18 in the penultimate game of the season. It was the rare “tank” game when the tanking was VERY real and VERY consequential. The Clippers and Grizzlies were more or less assured of finishing 5th and 6th in the West. But 5th place would face the 60-win Mavericks in Round 1 (the third best regular season record in the LEAGUE but relegated to the four seed in the West by the NBA’s ridiculous seeding fiasco) while 6th would face the 44-win Nuggets.
As if that weren’t incentive enough, the 6th seed also slotted into the side of the bracket where the very good but not unbeatable Suns were the top seed, avoiding both the Mavs and the mighty Spurs until the conference finals. It is often said that a team might be better off losing this or that game — it was never truer than on April 18, 2006. The Clippers took care of business and lost that night in Memphis, and went on to beat the Nuggets in the first round. The Grizzlies, for their part, were swept by San Antonio.
As for Phoenix in 2006, this was my second-favorite NBA team that year, and it wasn’t really close. I used to live in Phoenix, and have long been a Suns fan, but with the incomparable Steve Nash at the point, it was hard not to like this team. The Suns won 54 games and the Pacific Division, early in Mike D’Antoni’s “seven seconds or less” tenure in the desert.
But while the Suns were very good and presented a unique challenge, they were not a juggernaut. This was the year that Amare Stoudamire was injured, and they had also traded Joe Johnson in the off-season. Yes, Nash had just won his second of two MVPs, Shawn Marion was at the top of his game and Boris Diaw was a revelation in the Johnson trade. Still, the Phoenix roster was paper thin (they barely played seven guys against the Clippers in the playoffs) and tiny (I guess Diaw was their center?); one could certainly imagine MVP-level Elton Brand running roughshod against them in a seven game series.
It’s amazing to think how far the league has come since these games; D’Antoni’s Suns led the league by shooting a ridiculous-at-the-time 25.6 three pointers per game in 05-06. D’Antoni’s Rockets shot 45.4 threes per game last season. Meanwhile, Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy Sr (MDsr), himself a three point ‘“specialist” as a player, was NEVER a big proponent of the long ball as a coach. The Clippers were 29th in the league at 10.3 threes per game, and other than specialist Vladimir Radmanovich, don’t expect a lot of long balls in these games.
What to watch for in the Clippers-Nuggets game:
- Carmelo Anthony gunning.
- Carmelo Anthony sulking.
- Note that ‘Melo is the one player in this series who is still on an NBA roster (Shaun Livingston retired after last season).
- Future-Clipper Reggie Evans, key contributor to the NEXT Clippers playoff run, six years later. (Don’t blink; Reggie only played 4 minutes in Game 5 after averaging 16 in the first four.)
- (Another 2012-Playoff Clipper, Kenyon Martin was also on the Nuggets roster, but had run afoul of Nuggets Coach George Karl in Game 2 of the series and never played another minute in the series.)
- Future Clipper Marcus Camby, about the only bright spot on a sullen Nuggets roster.
- Former Clipper Andre Miller (not anyone’s bright spot) getting schooled by Sam Cassell.
What to watch for in the Clippers-Suns game:
- Kaman sits out Game 4 after being injured in Game 3. Against the Suns small lineup it didn’t matter much, as it was tough to keep Kaman on the floor even when healthy.
- Steve Nash doing Steve Nash things.
- 20 year old Shaun Livingston, in his second season, playing great defense against Nash (he had his devastating knee injury about nine months later).
- Future Clipper Tim Thomas being almost as frustrating as a Sun as he was as a Clipper.
- Raja Bell going OFF to keep the Suns close.
- The Clippers DOMINATING the glass (as they did this entire series).
- Of course, while this game was fun and all, no true fan can re-watch the Game 4 win without also what-iffing the Game 5 double OT loss in Phoenix. DANIEL EWING!
Such is the life of a Clippers fan.