Another Clippers season in the books: One Theory on the Collapse

Stephen Dunn

Citizen Zhiv wonders if maybe it was just time for this Clippers season to be over -- if the league and maybe even the citizens needed this to be done with at least for now.

It was a bad week in Clips Nation.  We've been there before, and we'll get through this one, but it hurts, it hurts real bad.  It's easy enough to compare it to the exquisite pain of Raja Bell-Daniel Ewing, and in the end it will probably end up being something like the same type of thing:  a couple of calls, a couple of plays, the Clips were RIGHT THERE, and you could feel it.  Maybe that one was even worse, because the Clippers had the Conference Finals in hand, they were so close, and just needed to close out.  There wasn't another game to win.  But this was more insidious, in all sorts of ways.

And now it's something like a relief.  A lot of us are way too invested in the Clippers emotionally.  They're a good bunch of guys, a good story, they've been building towards this moment and trying to reach the Promised Land for a long time.  Doc Rivers seems to be as good as it gets, in so many different situations, and especially in larger, more important, socially significant moments.  It's all there, all the pieces are in place.

But aren't you exhausted by the Clippers right now?  Yes, we would have built the bonfire and fanned the flames in the drive towards a championship, and we began to foster and create the expectation that we might do so.  That came even after a cluster bomb of Donald bullshit was dropped all over everything during the GSW series.  It was shocking, it was lurid, it was phenomenal, and it was long overdue.  Murder will out, and so will scandalous, outrageous behavior.  The Clipper run was just going to be that much more enjoyable because Sterling, banned for life, wouldn't be in the locker room, would never get to celebrate anything.  And that's the way things should be.

So now I'm thinking that if we're exhausted by the Clippers, and the Clippers themselves are wrecked by all of the drama, what must it be like for everybody else?  I mean, people have talked about the Clippers in ways and at a level of magnitude that has been absolutely unimaginable in all of our time as citizens.  Front page, gossip sites, legal issues, players, coaches, referees -- it's a lot, and then there's a lot more.  It seems unending, and the unsavory parts, the abhorrent Donald of it all, won't quit.  The basketball is nice, the support for the team is great, but even that is mired in extremely complicated NBA playoffs jujitsu, where sometimes things aren't exactly what they appear to be.

As much as we might be angry and emotional and ultimately just slightly relieved that it's all over and we get to go back to our lives, such as they are, imagine the other perspectives.  There is only a tiny number of true citizens of Clipper Nation.  Yes, they have been gaining fans, and the Old Guard is strong and hearty, but it's not exactly substantial.  In the past the Clippers mostly got recognition as the Lakers' shadow team, so the majority of people in LA were happy to give them a dis, and that counted as acknowledgment.  The tidal shifts in LA NBA fandom have been substantial this year, but they still don't really register in the general population, or even in the larger world of NBA afficion.  And in the meantime, the NBA has a league to run, playoffs to market and sell, culminating in its annual celebration of the global excellence of the brand, playing the Finals and crowning a champion.

It all just seems so much simpler, so much easier, so much less dramatic if you eliminate the Clippers.  It's not about advancing KD and pitting him against LeBron in the Finals.  If the Spurs beat the Thunder, then so be it.  But somehow it feels like the world at large was ready for the Clippers to be eliminated, to go away.  And even the Clippers themselves were exhausted by their ordeal, and they let their chance slip away like water running through your fingers.

I genuinely expected that the Clippers would get some good calls, pushing the Thunder down, and the series would go to Fame 7.  And there were lots of early and first half calls against Perkins and Westbrook and others.  The Clippers had all sorts of chances to take control, to put their foot down on the neck of the Thunder and force Game 7.  And yes, maybe anything might have happened in a Game 7, and it certainly would have provided its share of drama.

But when the Clippers failed to seize the game during the critical 1st quarter/2nd quarter transition and take control, and when it was the Thunder that made shots and crawled back into the game and took the lead, the window for the Clippers to gain any beneficial treatment was gone.  It was still shocking to see the CP offensive foul called, to see Blake's phantom 6th foul, and the foul called on DJ when Westbrook fell down, and for none of them, at absolutely critical junctures, to go the Clippers way. In our view it's all much too determinative, too WWE-like, a corruption of basic ethics.  But maybe it makes sense, and maybe when that smaller bit is combined with the more substantial referee assists in Game 5 it's possible to surmise that the NBA and the refs and the world at large were just sick of the Clippers, and it was time for them to go away.  Yes, the plucky squad could have taken those two games and won it by making plays.  But they were ambivalent themselves, using their talent and skill but falling short of making the precision razor sharp, making plays.  Instead they created opportunities for reversal and failure, and there was plenty of assistance in pushing the Thunder up and the Clippers down.

We have to see and acknowledge that for the larger world things are in a much better place right now.  If the Clippers were still alive, we would all have to talk about Sterling, and the story would keep going, heightened by the counter story of the team and its fortunes.  Now the Sterling news can quiet down and the story can go to non-front page legal meanderings.  There will be entire NBA playoff broadcasts where it isn't mentioned -- JVG gets his wish.  The playoffs go back to being the playoffs.

If we weren't such committed fans and citizens, we might have seen that this was inevitable.  The players had to battle, but something was missing, and now it's a lot more clear what it might have been.  The Clippers weren't really welcome.  Yes, they could have crashed the party and stayed loud and made people uncomfortable.  But it's not that type of team, they aren't those guys.  And they lost heart just enough to turn things towards the downward spiral.  As longtime Clipper fans, we know better than anybody what it's like to lose, what happens when your heart and focus fail, when positives turn negative, when the whole team is playing to lose, rather than to win.  We've seen it so often and so many versions of it over the years, but the version with CP and Griffin and Rivers is excruciating, a new brand of pain.  Still, we've been here before, and all across the spectrum, from how you play to lose in a routine 19-win season, to critical injuries, to water mains breaking on the same night 100K+ people die in Haiti, to nailing a poorly defended corner three.  It's never easy.  But this is the Clippers, another season in the books.

In the end, nobody wanted us.  Not yet.

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