It was inevitable. With all of the negative energy that was being circulated around the Los Angeles Clippers franchise in light of the revelations surrounding the Donald Sterling recordings it was no wonder that the men clad in red, white and blue got as far as they faced off against the Oklahoma City Thunder, MVP Kevin Durant and the uber-athletic point guard Russell Westbrook. Initially, it looked as if the combination of a championship-winning head coach (Doc Rivers), the league’s best traditional point guard (Chris Paul), and the league’s most athletic power forward/center tandem (Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan) would be enough to take the Clippers to their first Western Conference Finals appearance in the team’s 34 year history as Los Angeles exploded out of the gates to a 122-105 victory in Game 1.
Chris Paul, universally recognized as the best little man in professional basketball, came to life offensively and went 8 for 9 from three-point range in scoring 32 points and dishing out 10 assists in helping his team overcome big games from KD and Westbrook. The Thunder would return the favor in Game 2 with the one-two punch of their dynamic duo being the catalyst in OKC’s 122-101 landslide victory. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook chipped in with 32 points, 12 rebounds, 9 assists and 31 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, respectively. Game 2 was also the second game in a row that L.A. high-flyer DeAndre Jordan had a subpar game. He averaged 10 points and 13 rebounds per game in the regular season, but would only average 7 points and 6.5 rebounds over the first two games of the West Conference Semifinal series. The Oklahoma City Thunder would win a close Game 3 thanks in large part to veteran small forward Caron Butler chipping in 14 points, including two clutch threes late in the game, despite big games from Blake Griffin (34 points, 8 rebounds), Chris Paul (21 points and 16 assists to zero turnovers), and Jamal Crawford (20 points). It was a game the Clippers should’ve won, could’ve won, but let slip away.
The Clippers would lose Game 4 as well as Kevin Durant would erupt for 40 points. Again, the Los Angeles scoring trio of Paul, Griffin and Crawford would show up, as well as Darren Collision off the bench, but it was all for naught as the Thunder would win another close one by the score of 101-99. As Donald Sterling's Los Angeles Clippers were fighting for their playoff lives, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver soldiered on behind the scenes in his quest to wrest ownership of the franchise from Sterling. When it comes to defeating a basketball team featuring the NBA Most Valuable Player and the most athletic guard in the league, distractions are a bane to team morale. Not saying that the Donald Sterling situation is the reason why the Los Angeles Clippers would go on to lose Game 5 by a score of 105-104, but the energy spent fending off media bloodhounds would have been best spent fending off relentless forays into the paint by Westbrook or ankle-punishing crossover dribbles from Kevin Durant. In other words, I’m not sayin’...I’m just sayin’.
Game 5 would also witness DeAndre Jordan become exposed as a one-trick pony once again. He would tally no points and 4 rebounds in a little over 19 minutes in a dismal performance in which he would initially foul out. These playoffs made it glaringly apparent that Jordan is offensively inept if he’s not being spoon fed alley-oops from Chris Paul or Blake Griffin, and is not getting put backs or tip-dunks. Serge Ibaka and Steve Adams of the Oklahoma City Thunder made sure to put a body on him whenever a rebound was to be had.
Negative energy and poor play aside, there are some who believe the OKC Thunder were pretty much handed the Game 5 victory because of a play late in the 4th quarter where an uncalled foul by Clippers forward Matt Barnes on Thunder backup point guard Reggie Jackson appeared to cause a turnover off Jackson in favor of the Clippers. However, after review by the officials, the ball was given to the Thunder. Clippers head coach Doc Rivers was livid and demonstrative in his consternation toward the call, but what was done, was done. But perhaps Rivers should have placed more blame on his team leader, Chris Paul. The State Farm spokesperson was not only stripped by Russell Westbrook in trying to draw a foul on a three-point shot, but he would foul Westbrook as he attempted a three. It would seem as though those two plays had far more of an impact on the game than Jackson/Barnes call. It was yet another hard fought contest in which the Clippers would come up short like leprechauns once again.
In the Game 6 elimination game the refs’ influence on the outcome would once again come into questions as Chris Paul was called for a questionable offensive foul with 3:35 left, and Blake Griffin was called for an offensive foul with 3:11 seconds left in the contest. But the team could have done without all the histrionics displayed by coach Doc Rivers and some on the Clippers because of the aforementioned offensive fouls. With a red hot Kevin Durant scorching all who dared defend him in the second half, and a Clippers offense that had become stagnant and dribble happy, the ultimate demise of the Los Angeles Clippers can’t be placed at the feet of a single person. Not Donald Sterling, not Chris Paul, not Doc Rivers and nor is Blake Griffin are individually to blame. The Los Angeles Clippers’ failure to reach the Western Conference Finals yet again was a team failure.
From the distraction of racism that came from the very top, to the failure of the team’s on court general to lead the Clips to victory, to DeAndre Jordan’s “now you see me, now you don’t” disappearances throughout the series, the Clippers seemed dead set on creating reasons to not win rather than steeling themselves for the dog days of the NBA playoffs. All the turbulence wasn’t the fault of the players or the coach, but Sterling is still a part of the team as long as he benefits. For some, the Los Angeles Clippers had to lose. Though Donald Sterling has technically been banned from the NBA, he still benefits financially from every postseason victory, and who wants to see Sterling make another dime off the sweat of African-Americans?