I’m probably not alone in feeling like I barely remember the Passover Seder on Friday night, which coincided exactly with tip off of the Clippers’ play-in game against the New Orleans Pelicans. Or that the family Easter egg hunt on Sunday is a blur (although copious amounts of chocolate at 9 a.m. did help a little to ease the pain). Four days post-Pelicans, I’m hoping we are all having a safe re-entry into NBA-related social media and are moving on with our lives in this spring where we find ourselves without any skin in the playoff games.
Given that Clippers basketball is a game that none of us actually participate in as players, with results that don’t actually impact the core of our daily lives, it might be surprising to some non-fans how hard we take a loss in a season ending game. It’s challenging to explain to others how woven through our lives the Clippers experience is. For my family and my Clippers friends who have become family, this 37 year journey with the team has been a constant background of life. Not just from October through April/May/and hopefully June, but for the off-season months where we find new hope and anticipation with every rumor, trade, uniform drop and schedule announcement. That doesn’t go away regardless of what happened in the last few minutes on Friday night in downtown Los Angeles.
If you can remove yourself from the play-in disappointment (and that’s a topic for another time), this season was honestly nothing short of miraculous. We all know the stats — an entire season without Kawhi Leonard, most of the season without Paul George, most of the second half of the season without Normal Powell, the Covid protocols earlier in the season that saw the Clippers (and most NBA teams) playing with a starting line up of rotating 10-day players and kids who looked barely old enough to drive themselves to the games.
Ignore the stats and look at what really happened. We had a lot of great basketball to enjoy. We saw huge development in Luke Kennard, Amir Coffey, Isaiah Hartenstein, and Brandon Boston Jr. We experienced the zen and chess master that is Ty Lue. We fell in love with Robert Covington and Norman Powell. We chanted Reggie’s name a thousand times as he not only stepped up over and over, but had a peanut butter snack named after him, a pretty unique accomplishment. There were the record-setting number of comeback wins, highlighted by that Wizards victory. Not to mention Ivica Zubac, Marcus Morris Sr., Terance Mann, and Nico Batum, who raised the bar at every opportunity, took on leadership roles, and kept this team in the playoff mix against incredible odds. The return of Paul George was the icing on the basketball cake. Let’s not forget that it took him all of maybe 24 minutes in his first game back after a major injury to remind the NBA world that he is one of the best.
The Clippers have been lauded all season for their resilience and fight, and rightfully so. Most teams met with the absence of their two biggest stars for even a fraction of the season would not have been in contention for the playoffs up until the final day (I’m looking at you here, purple and gold.). No excuses, no regrets, just a team that has had one hell of a season, against all odds. Even in the post-Pelicans-Easter egg chocolate haze, that is something to look back on with pride.
Looking ahead, it’s not unreasonable to feel, once again, like this might be our year. For sure there will be some tweaks that we as fans second guess. There may be some movement of players we have come to respect and love. Rumors have already begun to circulate about who might be part of a trade (Morris? Zubac? Kennard?) But that’s all part of the fun of the off-season. And we have so much to look forward to with this team. A healthy Leonard/George duo, with the accompaniment of so many solid and proven starters and role players around them. And this is not just groundless hope of a Clippers lifer. Just this morning, Sam Presti of the Oklahoma City Thunder was quoted as saying that the Clippers have the best roster in basketball and will probably win a title, or multiple titles. I’m going with that.
So as fans, we dust ourselves off, find the optimism that was temporarily misplaced, and get ready for whatever comes next. I for one am looking forward to sharing the excitement, the hope, the camaraderie and the unique vibe of the Clipper Nation for another season.