The only way that most people are able to time travel these days is by way of the mind, and last night’s Western Conference Semi-Finals victory by the Houston Rockets’ over the hapless Los Angeles Clippers fractured the space time continuum just enough for me to see back to Thursday May, 14th. That’s the evening that was supposed to spell the ultimate exoneration of one of this generation's most under-celebrated basketball players, which is saying quite a bit when one considers he is still considered by many to be the best point guard of his generation.
Yes, on that evening it looked as if the Los Angeles Clippers were on the verge of sticking their pinky toe out of the Los Angeles Lakers’ infinite shadow. A shadow that comes with 16 NBA championship banners and more Hall of Fame players than just about any other franchise outside of the Boston Celtics. Yes, on May 14 the Los Angeles Clippers were supposed to have exorcised the ghost of a rabid and unapologetically racist owner who had once haunted their history up until fairly recently.
We had hoped the amount of positive energy that the Los Angeles Clippers had siphoned off from well-wishers and vanquished rivals alike would have propelled them into the Western Conference Finals. After all, the Western Conference Finals, win or lose, would have been virgin territory for a franchise that only recently began to enjoy any semblance of NBA success.
Yes, time and space split open on that day.
It appeared that they were on the verge of a catastrophically good thing, those poor Clippers. And through that crack in reality a song could heard. One that acted as a soliloquy to the the spirit of the Clippers’ season, even though it was composed before some on the current roster were even born.
With their foot on the gas, and leading a languishing Houston team by 20 points in a Game Six that saw MVP candidate SG James Harden on the bench, the unthinkable happened. That positive energy that had propelled the Los Angeles Clippers after they defeated the former NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs, in a first round match up that some considered one of the best in the history of the NBA playoffs, suddenly became inert with a quarter left in the game.
As history would tell it, the Houston Rockets would not only go on to win that series, but all things bad and critical are being directed at the Los Angeles Clippers. Doc Rivers, who many considered the second or third best coach in the NBA, is now the only coach in NBA history to lose two seven-game series in which his team had a 3-1 lead. Blake Griffin, who was looking like the Rebirth of Slick, the Return to the Funky Child and Five on the Black Hand Side all rolled into one, is now indicative of a superstar who was crowned as such far too soon. And Chris Paul, one of the most beloved players in the NBA thanks in large part to those hilarious State Farm commercials, is being told his herculean efforts in this series were all for naught.
Never mind the fact that the Clippers were starting an undersized and handle-deficient two guard who is largely devoid of athleticism in the brave but largely outclassed J.J. Redick against an MVP candidate in SG James Harden. Never mind fact that the Clippers didn’t have much athleticism outside of Griffin and DeAndre Jordan or that the Clippers’ bench is a barren landscape once you get past Jamal Crawford, Glenn Davis and, sometimes, combo guard Austin Rivers. Speaking of Jamal Crawford, the normally Eagle-eyed, proven “difficult” shot-maker had been something of a liability on the team’s overall efficiency. All that herky-jerky, stop-and-go, crossover-heavy offense that he’s normally quite proficient at integrating into the Clippers offense became cause for consternation and concern throughout the series.
Though there were a multitude of reasons why the Los Angeles Clippers lost to the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Semis, the overarching truth is that they were simply not good enough. However, when one considers that the Clips were a quarter of basketball away from dispatching the Rockets four days ago, and when we also consider that Blake Griffin and company defeated the former world champions to advance, and that they even won a game versus Houston without Chris Paul in the lineup, we have to concede that this just might be the greatest collapse in NBA playoff history.
Can it be that it was all so simple then? Can it be that it was all so simple then? Can it be…can it be…?