Denver flipped it 1-3 for the second straight tie. The Clippers, despite having the best roster in the NBA, still have not reached the first conference final in their history.
Just over a year ago, Steve Ballmer was smiling at Kawhi Leonard and Paul George’s double introduction. The owner of the Los Angeles Clippers had managed to convince the best player of the last season and one of the best companions in the league. In his hands, from one side to the other and with the permission of his neighbors LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the best couple in the NBA.
But that jersey that was holding the last Finals MVP and the one that had been the object of desire of his arch-nemesis Lakers weighed. And his story more. and it weighed not for titles and victories, but for something more difficult to reverse, defeats.
The Clippers are one of the losing franchises in the NBA. Those who navigate the last stretch of the competition waiting for strokes of luck and better times. One such stroke of luck was Blake Griffin. The power forward took them to a higher step than they were supposed to be, allowed them to face the transfer by one of the best point guards in the league, Chris Paul, and fight for the ring. They died, at best, in the conference semifinals.
That’s why having Kawhi Leonard and Paul George was important to Ballmer. It wasn’t just the second attempt of the decade to get to the ring. It was this time yes, a solid couple, with wickers, titles to their credit, and with conditions of being favorite number 1 to the title.
That is why when the Playoffs began the name of the Clippers appeared first in the bookmakers when it came to talking about the NBA ring. By Lou Williams, one of the championship’s best scorers, by Montrezl Harrell, a dominator of the paint, by Kawhi, by George … And by Doc Rivers, who had already won the title with the Celtics and is considered one of the best coaches of the championship.
They suffered and beat Luka Doncic’s Dallas Mavericks in the first round and faced the semifinals against some young Nuggets who came from a 1-3 comeback against the Jazz. They seemed far superior. They won three games and lost one to go 3-1 against the Colorado franchise. They were one step away from their best season in the NBA.
And they have failed. In one of the biggest negative (sporting) events in league history. In the confirmation of his black legend, the one that explains why it is more difficult to convert a losing team into a champion one than to match the successes of someone who has already won. In the sixth, they had almost 20 points of advantage and they ‘let themselves’ go back. And in the seventh, when the heart was tightening, the young Nuggets were better than them, with no response to what the situation demanded.
The Kawhi, George, and Rivers Clippers won’t be West finalists either. One more stain in its history, one quite large and we will see with what consequences. And the worst, next to him, calmly navigating the upper side of the table, the Lakers, with LeBron James assuming under his shoulders the weight of a story, this one, full of titles and victories.
HONOR THE DENVER NUGGETS
Beyond the embarrassment of the Clippers, we must talk about Denver. From Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. And from Mike Malone. The latter has been able to weave tactics and talent to turn around two playoffs that threatened to shorten his future in the Colorado franchise. In both series, against the Jazz and Clippers, Malone has gone from less to more, releasing and releasing his players as the games go by. And this seventh against Los Angeles has been the pinnacle of their basketball. Nikola Jokic in total freedom, organizing his team’s attack from the high post, moving the opposing defense to make room for Playoff sensation Jamal Murray. The Canadian point guard scored 40 points to lead his team, which lost twelve points but did not take his foot off the gas when he got ahead.
Jokic’s leadership is great news for NBA centers, even if they don’t look like him. He missed from the triple, but he assumed directing responsibility, aware that it was not his night to the basket, and made the Clippers suffer from there. The one from the Balkans is a point guard in the body of a twenty-year-old who hates the gym and is forced to play pivot. There is no further explanation.
The Serbian scored 16 points, captured 22 rebounds, and distributed 13 assists for the final 104-89, with partial +10 and +7 in the second half for the Nuggets. In front, a rival that neither could nor wanted to counter him. Kawhi stayed at a scant 14 points, to Paul George’s 10. 24 so many between the two stars that were supposed to lead the Los Angeles ring.
They will have to wait.