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NBA playoff notebook: Clippers have a chance to break postseason curse

·6 min read
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Fifty-one seasons. Zero conference finals appearances.

The Los Angeles Clippers franchise — which started as the Buffalo Braves, moved to San Diego as the Clippers, and then relocated to California in 1984 — has been around since 1970 and never made it past the second round of the playoffs.

1970 was a long time ago. Paul McCartney officially announced The Beatles had broken up that year. The Boeing 747 made its first commercial passenger trip from New York to London. Brazil won its third World Cup with Pele as captain. Dock Ellis threw a no-hitter with the Pittsburgh Pirates while under the influence of LSD. The New York Knicks won the NBA Finals.

From then until now, the Clippers have never made it to the conference finals. Ron Harper couldn’t do it. Neither could Loy Vaught. Or Pooh Richardson. The Elton Brand-Lamar Odom-Darius Miles trio couldn’t do it. The Lob City Clippers couldn’t do it. The presumptive championship favorites last season couldn’t do it.

The history of the Clippers would be hilarious if it didn’t truly feel so cursed. The franchise is 0-8 all-time in games where it's had a chance to advance to the conference finals. That includes three consecutive losses and repeatedly blowing double-digit leads last year at the NBA bubble after going up 3-1 against the Denver Nuggets. It also includes Game 6 at home against the Houston Rockets in 2015, when the Clippers, up 3-2 in the series with a 19-point second-half lead, watched as Josh Smith and Corey Brewer led Houston on a 40-15 run in the fourth quarter and a comeback win.

Reggie Jackson, right, reacts with teammate Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers after scoring and drawing the foul against the Utah Jazz. (Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)
Reggie Jackson, right, reacts with teammate Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers after scoring and drawing the foul against the Utah Jazz. (Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)

Forget the elimination games. The Clippers’ second-round resume has every kind of inexplicable loss you can conjure with your imagination.

In 2006, they won their first playoff series in 31 years, beating the Nuggets in the first round. Up 111-108 in Game 5 of the second round against the Phoenix Suns with 3.6 seconds left in overtime and the series tied 2-2, head coach Mike Dunleavy decided to put an ice-cold Daniel Ewing into the game for defensive purposes. Suns guard Raja Bell caught the ball in the corner in front of Ewing and drained a game-tying corner three, sending the game into double overtime. Phoenix would go on to steal the victory and win the series in seven games.

In 2014, the Clippers faced the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second round. With the series once again tied 2-2, Los Angeles was up by seven with 49 seconds remaining in Game 5, poised to steal a road win to set up a series-clinching Game 6 back home. It somehow managed to blow the lead thanks to a series of inexplicable decisions by point guard Chris Paul and lost the series in six.

The Clippers haven’t just failed in the second round. They’ve failed spectacularly.

Friday night, they have a chance to erase all of this.

Just 48 hours ago, it seemed like the Clippers’ curse had struck again. After two dominant wins at home against the Utah Jazz to even the series at 2-2, Kawhi Leonard was diagnosed with a knee injury that has him on the shelf indefinitely. The severity of it is still unknown, but it was a devastating blow heading into a critical Game 5 on the road. The Clippers had wrestled control of the series from the No. 1 seed in the West, and it appeared the franchise was finally cracking the door open for a conference finals appearance. Now its best player was out.

And then, something strange happened. The Clippers went into Utah and, without Leonard, put together arguably their most impressive postseason win in franchise history. The much-maligned Paul George posted his third straight masterpiece in this series, scoring 37 points and grabbing 16 rebounds in a 119-111 win. Marcus Morris added 25 points. Reggie Jackson, the surprise hero of these playoffs, contributed 22 points. Terance Mann punctuated the victory with a vicious dunk over Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert in the fourth quarter.

The victory is not as surprising when you consider what the Clippers have done in the playoffs. They were ridiculed by the rest of the league after purposely losing the final two regular-season games to avoid the Los Angeles Lakers in the first two rounds, but instead set themselves up for a first-round matchup with Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks, who put them in a 2-0 hole with back-to-back wins at Staples Center.

The same old Clippers were back.

Except, are these maybe not the same old Clippers?

They fought back from a 30-11 deficit to start Game 3 and won the next two games, then won Game 6 and 7 after falling behind 3-2 to Dallas. The Clippers have carried that resilience to the second round versus Utah, winning three straight after falling behind 2-0 again, setting themselves up for Friday's game.

If it weren’t for last year’s postseason collapse, what the Clippers are doing in these playoffs would probably be looked at through a different lens. But it seems like everyone is just waiting for the other shoe to drop. After all, it’s the Clippers.

But tonight could finally be their moment.

The Clippers have a chance to be spectacular for the right reasons tonight.

Speaking of the Clippers’ curse…

Former Clippers head coach Doc Rivers, now running the show in Philadelphia, is facing elimination on Friday. His 76ers are down 3-2 in their best-of-seven series against the Atlanta Hawks after blowing two consecutive games in spectacular fashion. First, the top seed coughed up an 18-point lead on the road in Game 4, then somehow followed it up by losing at home after going up by 26 points in Game 5.

Give the Hawks full credit for both victories, but Philadelphia’s roster construction around Joel Embiid continues to be the dominant storyline of this series. The Sixers are a great defensive team, but their offence has let them down repeatedly. Seth Curry was the only player outside Embiid to score in the second half of Game 6. Tobias Harris had four points. Ben Simmons isn’t taking any shots and can’t make his free throws.

If the Sixers don’t find a way to win two straight and advance, this feels like the end of the Embiid-Simmons partnership.

Finally, an update on Nikola Jokic’s offseason

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