Not much thought or league-wide attention was given the Los Angeles Clippers going into the 2018-19 season. The oddsmakers and experts had the team pegged south of 40 wins and outside of the loaded Western Conference playoff picture. The team had already been rebuilt with a seeming hodgepodge of less heralded players in the wake of the Blake Griffin and Chris Paul trades that left the team without a star-level talent. Defying most people’s expectations, the Clippers made the playoffs this year but then drew an unfavorable matchup against the Golden State Warriors.
Many people in and around the league predicted the Warriors would sweep the Clippers. Well, that was the belief of point guard Patrick Beverley, who was the heart and soul of this season’s Clippers squad.
“I don’t think people thought this was going five. Beginning of the season, people didn’t even have us going to the playoffs. I don’t think people thought that,” Beverley said.
Instead of getting predictably swept in four straight games, the Clippers returned home to Staples Center down 3-2 to the Warriors. The Clippers had already won two games on the road against the defending champions and had defied expectations once more to make it this far. On Saturday, the Warriors played up to their collective talent level and won handily, moving on to the second round. After being eliminated from the playoffs, Clippers guard Lou Williams summed up the season and put it into context.
“We were a 48-win, eight seed. There’s a lot of teams that would die for a 48-win season. For me, we weren’t just happy to be here. I think our record, the way we played and how we carried ourselves throughout this season, it proved that. We weren’t just happy to be in the playoffs and let’s get 4-0’d. We came into this series really thinking we can put some pressure on these guys and give them a run for their money to try to upstage these guys.” Williams said. “[Kevin Durant] was amazing tonight.”
Durant earned that praise from Williams and then some. Durant displayed a level of individual excellence and was the key to extinguishing the surprising efforts by the Clippers. Simply put, over the final four games of the series, Durant averaged 41.5 points. In the closeout game, Durant scored 50 points despite the defense doing everything imaginable to slow him down. Williams explained with exasperation the effort and futility of trying to slow down Durant.
“We tried everything. We tried everything. We had several different coverages for KD. Sometimes you come across special people and it doesn’t matter what you send to them,” Williams explained. “It wasn’t a lack of effort on our part. He’s an all-world professional and he proved himself. He proved exactly who people think he is, who thinks he is himself and he did it. And you tilt your head to a guy like that.”
Winning two games on the Warriors’ home court and pushing the series to six games was impressive, but something arguably even more significant came out of the series than just the result. Williams and back-up big man Montrezl Harrell are leading candidates for sixth man of the year with their dynamic play off the bench. Many league-wide fans took notice of the way the duo and the team played above their collective talent level. Despite playing for the hallway rival Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron James shared his appreciation for Beverley, Williams and Harrel specifically.
— LeBron James (@KingJames) April 27, 2019
James was not alone in his praise. Other notable NBA figures offered similar praise, such as Celtics Hall of Famer Bill Russell, who credited the Clippers for their level of play against the Warriors.
The Clippers players are cognizant of the fact that their performance against the Warriors was both surprising and caught the attention of the league.
“I’m sad that we lost, of course. We know, we took the back-to-back champs six games. We hold our head up high,” Beverley said.
Dwyane Wade also complimented the team and Head Coach Doc Rivers after Game 6.
Amazing year by Doc Rivers and the @LAClippers as a fan i hope they can continue to build off this momentum going forward.
— DWade (@DwyaneWade) April 27, 2019
Williams shared a similar enthusiasm for the team’s future and stated emphatically that he’s happy to be a Clipper – something few if any players did before Steve Ballmer became the team’s owner.
“I’m happy to be a Clippers. I think that shows with me taking that extension last year. Just the way everything is run here is smooth. Everybody communicates with each other. It’s no surprises. No sneaky stuff. No funny business. If there is an issue, it gets discussed and I’m just happy to be here. As far as ownership and front office goes, I have a lot of confidence in the decisions they make and I look forward to what they put together this summer,” Williams said.
All of this positivity about the Clippers’ coaching staff, front office and players, lends itself now to the offseason. Having positioned themselves to have enough cap space to sign two max-level free agents, the Clippers are one of the more prominent teams that can realistically be a suitor to this summer’s top free agents.
The stability, positive environment, supportive ownership and favorable market make the Clippers an appealing destination. It’s not clear who the Clippers will sign this offseason, but they played hard and caught the attention of the collective NBA in their first-round loss to Golden State. Perhaps that performance, along with the other positive facets of the franchise will be enough to land a star player or two and move forward in their ascent up the Western Conference.
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