The Clippers have been here before.
The Clippers have been here before.
Not just game 7, not just a rough game 6 loss, not just letting a series lead slip away, not just facing an elimination game on the road.
This team, and this core, has faced it all. This is a far cry from the team that was swept by San Antonio in 2012. Don't believe me? Just look at their 7-game series win against the Spurs just two weeks ago.
In 2012, the Clippers were up 3-1 against the Memphis Grizzlies. Then, Memphis won game 5 at home, and amid "See you Sunday" chants predicting a game 7 that Sunday in Memphis, the teams went back to LA, where the Clippers lost a home closeout game that would have propelled them to the second round.
What happened next? They went to Memphis and won game 7 to advance.
In 2013, the Clippers again had a strong 2-0 lead against the Grizzlies. This time, they'd drop the next four, including a crucial game 5 at home, and be eliminated in a road game 6.
In the 2014 first round, Los Angeles lost a potential closeout game 6 to the Warriors before winning game 7 (this one at home). And in the second round, they lost another game 6, this one at home in an elimination game, and were sent packing.
Just two weeks ago, the Clippers found themselves down 3-2, facing a disappointing first-round exit to cut short a season of high expectations. Then they won a huge game 6 on the road and an all-time classic game 7 at home to advance.
This core has experience. They've played big games before. They've lost game 6 and bounced back to win game 7 twice, once with the deciding contest on the road.
One popular fact as the Rockets faced this series deficit was that the Clippers, in the Chris Paul-Blake Griffin era, have never won a series in less than 7 games. Why? Was it a testament to their will that they stretch out series that they might deserve to lose? Maybe they win close series. Or, maybe they lack the focus to finish a team whose back is against the wall unless theirs is too.
Conventional wisdom will tell you that a championship team can't play 21 playoff games (three seven game series) and expect to have gas in the tank in the Finals against an opponent who may have played 15.
Common sense will tell you that as long as you win 12 of those 21 games you'll make the Finals, and as long as you win 4 of 7 there you'll take home the title.
Conventional wisdom will tell you that game 7's are toss ups at the end of tightly contested series between evenly matched teams
Facts will tell you that the current Clippers core is 3-0 in game 7's,
Maybe the Clippers aren't mentally tough enough to win it all this year. Maybe their inability to close out a team before game 7 is indicative of that. Maybe the team will lose on Sunday, and this will be a lesson about closing out series with intensity, another step in a multi-year process for success.
But maybe they'll win. Maybe they'll take the next two rounds in less than 7 to break that stigma, or maybe they'll be swept in the conference finals.
No matter what the road is for these Clippers, this is our team.
For those of us that have been here for a long time, we've ridden this roller coaster through all the drops and all the climbs and every loop and corkscrew along the way. No matter our frustration, it's always good to take a step back and appreciate what we have. Appreciate the anguish if the Clippers are eliminated Sunday--it means that the team had a real life chance at the NBA title. Who would have thought that 5 years ago. Appreciate the anguish tonight--it means the squad had a real chance at winning a game, and we all remember the years when that hope was rare.
For the fans that are newer, learn from the veteran fans around you. Just because you didn't suffer through the bad years doesn't mean that you can't have a mature appreciation of the success the Clippers are enjoying now.
I believe in this Clippers team. I think that they will win on Sunday, but forget about that. I believe in the character and chemistry of this core and this coach to learn and grow and get better from tonight's loss. And even if that improvement isn't enough to win game 7 this weekend, I believe in these men's ability to learn from the experience for next year and beyond. Winning can happen at any flukey time, but a winning culture is carefully built over the course of years. Winning is random, but a winning culture is deliberate. As long as I see the staff and roster consistently improving and building a winning culture, I will be proud to be a die-hard fan of this team.
If you don't believe in this Clippers team, that's ok. You might think they're going to lose Sunday, and you might think that this core should be blown up, and that's your decision. But no matter what, remember what you are. You're a fan. A supporter. So when the results come in, both Sunday, and the rest of the playoffs if the Clippers advance, and for the rest of your fandom, remember that you are a supporter. There's no excuse for an adversarial fan-team relationship. There's no excuse for aggressive, obscene comments (or worse, tweets directed to players who are even more upset than you are and actually might see them).
I love this team, and I love these players, and I love this staff, and I love the new organization with Ballmer at the head. I am incredibly proud of this basketball program and the people involved in it and I'm incredibly proud to be associated with it, even though I'm just one of tens of thousands of identical fans. I've loved the ride they've taken me on for the last decade, and I couldn't be more optimistic about what's to come in the short and long-term future.
If the Clippers prevail Sunday, they're still my pick to win it all.
If the Clippers fall Sunday, they're my early favorite for 2016.
Clippers in 7.