The LA Clippers’ playoff success, or lack thereof, has never been more evident after their collapse in last year’s playoffs. A franchise that has never made a Western Conference Finals was one win away from meeting their down-the-hall rivals, the LA Lakers, in the WCF last season before an all-time collapse in which they gave up a 3-1 series lead over the Denver Nuggets.
Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and company look to change that this season. Through a variety of injuries, young developing players, and veteran additions, the Clippers find themselves locked into the 4th seed out West, matched up against the same team they played in the first round of last year’s playoffs, the Dallas Mavericks.
Key #1 to Clippers’ Playoff Success: Contain Luka Doncic
This may seem obvious, but it’s much easier said than done. This Mavericks squad has some solid players, but make no mistake, they’ll go as far as Luka Doncic takes them.
Doncic averaged 27.7 PPG, 8.6 APG, and 8.0 RPG, MVP caliber numbers from the 22-year-old guard on the season. However, in three games against the Clippers, Doncic averaged 30.3 PPG, 11.0 APG, and 8.3 RPG, all above his season averages. While the jump in these numbers is not astronomical, it’s enough to cause concern for a team with the most elite group of perimeter defenders in the league.
This brings me to the point of this section; the Clippers have to utilize their defensive talent. In last year’s playoff series, Doncic’s primary defender was Marcus Morris Sr. While Morris is a capable defender and pest on both sides of the ball, the Clippers also possess the defense abilities of former DPOY Kawhi Leonard, 6’10 guard Paul George, and Mr. 94 Feet – Patrick Beverley. Throwing different looks at Doncic and never allowing him to get comfortable with the Clippers’ length and defensive abilities will be instrumental in the early stages of the Clippers’ playoff success.
Key #2 to Clippers’ Playoff Success: Execute to the Level of Talent
This section can be simply defined as “execute on both sides of the ball,” but I don’t necessarily mean it to be that simple. Yes, execution is key in a grueling playoff matchup against a Top 6 team in the conference, but it seems to be even more imperative for the star-studded Clippers.
With names like Leonard and George on the roster, it can be easy to shift gears into cruise control and rely on talent alone to win games. This can be an effective strategy… in the regular season. When the ball is tipped in the postseason, however, everyone has talent. It comes down to execution, drive, and talent to determine the winner of a series.
Simply put, the Clippers need to forget about what their own numbers say on paper and remember they have to show up every night on both sides of the ball. Pick up defensive rotations. Run offensive sets. Rebound the ball for 48 minutes. These are small things that should go without saying, but championship teams are made when teams have talent and do the little things right.
Key #3 to Clippers’ Playoff Success: Utilize experience
Last season is not a fun memory for any Clippers fan, and I’m sure it’s not for the players either. However, the only way to not let last postseason a total loss is to learn from it and improve upon it. The members of last year’s team know what it feels like to come close to a major goal and let it slip through their fingers. It’s imperative that the leaders on this team, even past Leonard and George, step up and refuse to let their team fall to those same results for a second straight playoffs.
Along with the returning leaders come the new faces on the team. Rajon Rondo is a two-time NBA champion now running the second unit on arguably the deepest team in the league. Nicolas Batum is a 13-year NBA veteran with six years of playoff experience under his belt. Serge Ibaka is one of the more recent NBA champions, and now he’s got his running mate in Kawhi Leonard back. Ty Lue is a former NBA Champion head coach with a Top 5 player on his roster (which he now has again in Kawhi Leonard).
The Clippers need to utilize the experience available to them, either from on the court or from the sidelines. They have the depth and IQ to be true championship contenders, but they have to use their tools correctly.
This section weighs heavily on Ty Lue and his ability to put the right personnel on the floor and adjust in real-time, but it also touches on the vocal leaders actually wearing Clippers jerseys. The Clippers’ playoff success is not dependent on any individual, but rather on utilizing all of the pieces they’ve acquired to the best of their ability.
What the Clippers’ Playoff Success Means to the Franchise
The Clippers have essentially been the laughing stock of the NBA up until the Lob City years with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Then, year after year, the team was expected to do big things, only to fizzle out in the postseason or see injuries decimate their championship aspirations. When Paul and Griffin were traded for a plethora of players and picks, it looked like the Clippers would rebuild. Instead, they maintained a decent level of competitiveness over the next few seasons until they ultimately landed Paul George and Kawhi Leonard in the same offseason.
After one of the most disappointing playoff losses in NBA history in 2020, the stakes have never been higher for one specific team. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are nearing the point in their contracts where they can choose to go elsewhere. NBA fans have already written off the Clippers thanks to a lack of previous success.
But none of that matters if the LA Clippers can put together a historic playoff run this summer, ending with them hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
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