Game 5 was to take place on the first night of my trip. I was excited at the potential of closing the series out on the road, but knew that history was not favor of the Clippers. Heading down the 40 towards Laughlin, Brian Sieman had the play by play. The game wasn't going particularly well, but I was calm because I didn't really have any great expectations. Then, panic set in. Blake Griffin was down with a knee injury and was not getting up immediately. Cut to commercial. What the hell was happening. Not being able to see the play with my own eyes I was frantically trying to call someone to determine the severity of the injury. It seemed he was okay according to my brother, but then again, it seemed like he was okay when he injured himself during the preseason of his rookie year. Then Chris Paul re-aggravated his groin injury. Not good. My calm was gone. Getting ahead of myself, I was already dreading a game 7 in the Grind-house. We were not effectively guarding ZBO and Gasol, and the Grizz were going to throw everything they had at us in game 6, while our two best players were questionable for the game. No longer worried about when the San Antonio series would start, I was now unsure if the Clippers would make it out of the first round. Luckily, we arrived in Laughlin, Nevada that night because the complimentary drink service at the Casino was badly needed.
Several months ago I agreed to venture on a cross country road trip to Florida. Leaving the second week of May, I knew that the trip would overlap with the Clipper playoff run. Now typically, I don't like to miss Clipper games. I certainly don't like to miss Clipper playoff games, which in my lifetime have been about as rare as yesterdays solar eclipse. But with Dallas, San Antonio, Memphis, and Oklahoma City all likely to make the playoffs and, potentially stops on my journey from sunshine state to sunshine state, I was excited at the possibility of catching a road playoff game or two. I got to go to game 3 at home against the Grizzlies, and watched from the comfort of my couch as the Clippers took game 4. Armed with league pass mobile on my iPhone and an auxiliary connection in the rental car, I hit the road with the Clippers holding a 3-1 lead in their first round matchup. San Antonio here I come.
The Clips were off during my drive to Albuquerque the next day, which was probably good for my sanity. With the scheduling no longer in my favor, I decided to make Dallas the next stop. I was on track to make it to the hotel shortly after the game started, but a pretty nasty thunderstorm derailed us. We stopped at a local sports bar/restaurant and caught most of the first half, which wasn't going particularly well. After checking into the room, I watched nervously from the bed as the game went back and forth. The Clips were getting killed by Gasol and ZBO. Then the second unit, led by Eric Bledosoe, made a run in the fourth quarter, and it looked like the Clippers would be moving on. But Memphis, as we all know, had other plans. The Grizzlies stormed back and won the game. I was not very good company on that stormy Dallas night, a combination of the Clipper loss and the 9 hour drive I had just completed. I know it's a good thing that I still care about basketball enough to be emotionally involved, but I literally lost sleep over that game. To make matters worse, we were awoken at 6:00 am to the sound of an alarm and an automated voice in our hotel repeating "AN EMERGENCY HAS BEEN REPORTED IN THE BUILDING. ALL GUESTS PLEASE EVACUATE IMMEDIATELY." Was there a fire? a bomb threat? Had the machines finally taken over Cyberdine systems? My girlfriend, who was terrified that we were going to run into a tornado at some point on the trip, was convinced that there was a twister barreling down on us. We made it down the stairs before I looked at her and said, why the hell would we go outside if there was a tornado? At 6:00 am (4:00 am pacific, by the way), its fair to say neither of us were thinking particularly clearly. After realizing that a broken sprinkler line in the building was the culprit, they sent us all back to our rooms. We would live to drive another day. I thought the hotel handled the situation pretty well, although they offered no monetary compensation for the collective soiled underpants they caused that morning.
After a quick drive around town and a visit to historic Elm Street, site of the Kennedy assassination, we were off to New Orleans. The Clippers were again off as they headed to Memphis for game 7. New Orleans is a crazy, fun town. Perhaps too much so. The next morning we began our approximately 700 mile drive to our destination in central Florida with frozen daiquiri induced hangovers. Luckily, we had coffee, world famous New Orleans beignets from Cafe Du Monde, and a Clipper game to help speed along the journey.
The Clipper game tipped off shortly after we crossed over the border into Florida. Luckily, Ralph and Mike were calling the game. The next 3 hours flew by, and although the Clippers had pretty much wrapped up the victory with a few minutes to go, I was not going to celebrate until the final buzzer had sounded. Once it had, the disappointment of games 5 and 6 turned into pride. That was truly the greatest win in the history of the franchise, and a big step for the Clippers going forward. They announced that the Clippers would head to San Antonio on Tuesday, and play again on Thursday. We had plans to be in Florida until Thursday, so my dream of catching a road game wasn't going to happen,but it didn't matter. I would gladly watch/listen to the games from the road and be home in time for game 4.
The Clippers dropped game one, but I thought they played pretty well for the most part. It seemed that Chris Paul's poor performance was not likely to happen again, and the Clippers, it seemed, could compete in this series. With game one over, it was time to head back home. We had stops in three NBA towns on the way back- Atlanta, Memphis and Oklahoma City. We were in Atlanta for Game 2, and watched the Clippers play pretty poorly in the second half and lose, while wondering if San Antonio was ever going to miss a shot in this series. The victory march I had planned for Beale Street in Memphis the next day was nowhere near as fun as I had hoped with the Clips down 2-0 and not mounting much of a fight (against a team that Memphis knocked out of the playoffs last season, no less). And while Memphis seemed to be a city that really does love their team, Oklahoma City was easily the most appreciative fan base I have ever seen. The entire city embraces that team. Every business had Thunder signs/posters hanging. There were "One city, one team" banners or painted murals across the whole town. Skyrises had Thunder logos painted at the top. Fans were out in full force wearing team shirts and Jerseys, and the bars were all packed with fans watching as they played the Lakers in Staples Center the night we were there. Simply a great fan base and a city where the NBA can definitely work long term.
We listened to game three on the road from Oklahoma City to Gallup, New Mexico, the final stop on the trip. When the Clippers jumped out to an early lead, I was cautiously optimistic, but not confident that they would be able to hold on. I was frustrated and upset listening to San Antonio score with ease on nearly every possession. I was just outside of Amarillo, Texas when I reached the final stage of grief: acceptance. The chances of the Clippers coming back in this series were slim at best.
We made it back home to Los Angeles yesterday, and if we had hustled, we could have made it to Staples for game 4. But after 5000 miles of driving, there was nowhere to go but home. The Clips gave a pretty good effort and had a chance to win the game for a finish, yet it was not to be. A fantastic Clipper season came to an end Sunday night, and they have nothing to be ashamed of. It's tough to swallow getting swept, but sometimes these things happen. Popovich led spurs teams have been swept out of the playoffs before too. Sometimes you run into a buzz-saw, and the 2012 Spurs were exactly that. Chris Paul was not himself in this series, but I'm not sure if it would have mattered. Perhaps a sweep could have been avoided, but this Spurs team is just too good right now. They can shoot the lights out, Tim Duncan looks like he has turned the clock back about 10 years, Tony Parker is playing the best basketball of his career, and they are just about the best passing team I have EVER seen. The acquisition of Boris Diaw was huge, as he fits in that offensive system perfectly. They are going to be very tough for anyone to beat this year.
So the road trip and the 2012 Clippers season ended on the same day. It's disappointing, but with the end of this season comes the hope for the next. With any luck, I'll get another opportunity to see the Clips play on the road next May, or who knows, maybe even next June.
It's good to be home Clipper Nation.