The Los Angeles Clippers Are Blowing Their Best Opportunity

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Even earlier than his group misplaced its result in the Denver Nuggets on Sunday afternoon, Los Angeles Clippers Coach Doc Rivers turned to Tyronn Lue, considered one of his assistants, and informed him that he sensed hassle. His gamers had slowed their tempo on offense. It was apparent. But as soon as that tempo was gone, it was gone for good.

“Listen, when you decide to be a coach, it’s not going to be roses every day,” Rivers stated. “So we clearly have the right formula as far as how we’re playing, and then we keep losing it.”

Expectations are totally different for the Clippers this season. Far faraway from their laughingstock years, they’ve championship aspirations. They may even be favorites — or not less than they had been. But for a franchise that has by no means superior to a convention finals, the Clippers are discovering it more and more tough to separate themselves from their previous.

Presented with two alternatives to shut out the Nuggets within the convention semifinals, the Clippers have now blown each. On Friday, they wasted a 16-point lead in a Game 5 loss. On Sunday, they disintegrated once more because the Nuggets erased a 19-point deficit in a 111-98 win, night the best-of-seven collection at three video games apiece. Game 7 is Tuesday evening.

Taken as an entire, it has been a cringeworthy stretch of basketball for the Clippers, worsened by the truth that the Lakers — who share the Staples Center area with them in Los Angeles — are awaiting the winner within the convention finals. The Lakers will likely be nicely rested by Game 1 on Friday evening. The Clippers simply hope to nonetheless be taking part in by then.

“If you get through this, it will definitely serve you well,” Rivers stated. “There’s no doubt about that. Because when you go through things like this and adversity and you come out of it the other end, on the right end of it, it absolutely makes you a better team.”

This just isn’t the identical Clippers group that, in 2015, blew a 3-1 collection result in the Houston Rockets within the convention semifinals, dropping in seven video games. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, the leaders of that group, are lengthy gone. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, who had been introduced in at no small price final low season to push a playoff-ready group excessive, don’t have anything to do with any of the franchise’s unlucky historical past, after all. But maybe the psychic wounds linger, and the reminders of previous flameouts have been amplified in latest days.

“It’s pressure every game,” Leonard stated. “Obviously, nobody wants to go home. But just got to go out there, play your game and live with the results.”

The Nuggets are an issue. They appear totally unfazed by dire circumstances. In the primary spherical, they trailed the Utah Jazz, 3-1, of their best-of-seven collection earlier than coming all the way in which again behind the tag-team brilliance of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. Now, in opposition to the Clippers, the Nuggets try to do it once more.

No participant within the collection has been extra fearsome than Jokic, who has averaged 25.eight factors and 12 rebounds whereas taking pictures 53 % from the sector. On Sunday, the Nuggets outscored the Clippers by 62-30 over the sport’s last 22 minutes. Jokic completed with 34 factors.

“Give them credit,” Rivers stated of the Nuggets. “They’re playing hard. We’re playing the third-best team in the West, and they’re good, they’re relentless, resilient. But what we’ve done to get the leads has worked continuously, and then we stop doing it.”

Specifically, he stated, the Clippers stopped shifting the ball. And as their lead washed away within the fourth quarter, Rivers looked for options. He even summoned Reggie Jackson, a reserve who had performed sparingly within the collection, off the bench. “We needed someone to make a shot,” Rivers stated. (Jackson didn’t try one in 59 seconds of taking part in time.)

In the Clippers’ 50 years of existence, they’ve made 15 journeys to the playoffs and eight appearances within the convention semifinals, courting to their days because the Buffalo Braves. But that’s so far as they’ve ever gone.

The Clippers nonetheless hope that they’ll push by means of that barrier with yet another win, however they’ve endured their share of obstacles. They have seldom appeared complete because the begin of the season — so many months in the past. George, for instance, missed the group’s first 11 video games after low season shoulder surgical procedure, then Leonard was sidelined with a knee contusion after George lastly joined the beginning lineup.

The season restart contained in the bubble at Walt Disney World has offered its personal challenges. George has spoken about his struggles acclimating to life within the bubble. Montrezl Harrell, the league’s Sixth Man of the Year Award winner, was gone for a month as he grieved the loss of life of his grandmother, and he has labored to seek out his type within the playoffs. Patrick Beverley, who fouled out in lower than 18 minutes on Sunday, has been slowed by a calf harm. And Lou Williams has been wildly inconsistent, taking pictures 23.four % from 3-point vary by means of the primary two rounds.

For a lot of the season, the Clippers expressed confidence — by means of all of the accidents and absences, by means of all of the rising pains and ups and downs — that they might have the ability to assemble the items when it mattered most. But ample expertise doesn’t at all times translate into cohesive play, and the gown rehearsals are over.

“They know they have an opportunity,” Rivers stated. “They want to win worse than everybody.”