The notion sounds crazy at first, doesn't it? The Clippers, not memorable? Not... exciting? That's preposterous!
And you'd be correct, the Clippers, warts and all, were still one of the most watchable teams in the league last year. But they're not competing with the rest of the league here, they're competing with themselves — namely, the previous year's incarnation.
I've been considering this possibility since March, so it might not ring so true with other fans, especially following the playoffs. But put the postseason aside for a moment, and just consider their last two regular seasons. Did they really put out a more memorable (in a good way) on-court product last year? We can compare the two teams in a few ways.
Beginning of the Season
2014: The Clippers started off the year with some ridiculous offensive outputs. After falling to the Lakers on opening night, they put up 126 on Golden State in a game where Chris Paul and Blake Griffin hooked up for this ridiculous sequence — back... to back... to back alley-oops, leaving Mark Jackson in a state of apoplectic disbelief. And let's not forget the absolute evisceration of Houston, where they scored a franchise-record 78 in the first half and ended with a cool 137. The offense was flowing and shots were falling, and even though we knew that sieve-like defense couldn't last, it was fun when it happened.
2015: Maybe it was a product of heightened expectations, but the start of the season was something akin to dreadful, where a supposed championship contender came out looking flat and uninterested and uninspiring. The Clippers barely eked out wins against teams that were beset by injuries or just plain bad. They played like each game was a chore, looking like resigned soldiers trudging through a dreary swamp. Most importantly, they didn't show up versus other contending teams, getting absolutely walloped by Golden State, Chicago (at home!), and Memphis.
2014: This was the year of Blake (in the regular season). The man showed up every night and was simply dominant — bulling opponents in the post, soaring in transition, dribbling and passing with ease in the open floor. Especially after Chris Paul went down, Griffin shouldered the team (including the flotsam of reserve bigs, starring Byron Mullens, Antawn Jamison, and Ryan Hollins) and thrust himself into the MVP conversation. It was standard practice for him to throw up close to twenty points in the first quarter on a nightly basis, and he regularly put up massive statlines. Even in losses he shined, including a 43 point, 15 rebound showing that was almost singlehandedly enough to defeat the then-two-time-defending champion Miami Heat (minus his starting backcourt).
2015: While Blake eventually took his game to brand new levels in the playoffs, his performance in the regular season never reached the same dizzying heights of the year prior. This was the year Blake Griffin truly embraced his midrange jumper, at the expense of sacrificing his forays into the paint and on the boards. While it enhanced his longevity, it didn't make for thrilling basketball in the moment. Blake's metamorphosis, more than any other aspect of the team, was emblematic of the differences between the '14 and '15 regular seasons.
Second place in that category goes to Jamal Crawford, who went from a sixth man award and death-defying shootouts versus the likes of Kevin Durant and Terrence Ross(!) to languishing on a putrid bench unit and slipping further into his bad habits (although many fans forget his excellent caliber of play early in the season and when Blake Griffin was injured in February).
Close Games and Comebacks
Here, I feel, is perhaps the key difference between the two campaigns. Think back to 2014 and a bevy of memorable comebacks and intense victories come to mind: crazy fourth quarter rallies against Dallas (all three wins against the Mavs that year featured roaring final frame comebacks, and the loss almost turned out the same way); the clutch steal against the Wolves to force overtime; and numerous other intense games. Sure, there were losses too (the Christmas game in Golden State, followed by a bonkers overtime loss to the Blazers the next night; that Randy Foye buzzer beater), but even those had a certain feeling of injustice or bounces going the wrong way, games that still rallied you as fans.
I didn't feel the same way about last year's Clippers — there was one fantastic buzzer beater, but apart from that, how many times did the Clippers come from behind at the ends of games to steal improbable victories? Crunch time was more frequently marked by stagnation, the bench frequently letting teams back into games that should have been wrapped up. It was marked less by memorable successes in the clutch, and more by failures, incompetency, and frustration. You had Chris Paul not hitting buzzer-beaters (again, playoffs aside), but coughing up game-sealing turnovers to Kawhi Leonard and Mike Conley. A double-digit lead evaporated in the final minute in Brooklyn, the Clippers choked away a dominant performance to fall to Atlanta. That doesn't include all the embarassing losses to contending teams where the Clippers came out flat, or were left in the dust (and unlike 2014, the Clippers didn't only play elite teams on road SEGABABAs).
This isn't an indictment on the Clippers' prowess, or what they accomplished last season. Maybe a bias on my part, caused by the lens I viewed the games and interacted with the team through. With a competent bench and an injection of athleticism, perhaps things will change this year. The Clippers could be an infinitely more fun team, even if they're not as good. Or they could become even less watchable while still shattering franchise records.
Regardless of all that, and regardless of how both postseason runs ended, it seems obvious to me that the Clippers weren't quite as memorable in the regular season last year. And I suspect that a lot of this has to do with issues in the clutch, leaving mostly failures where more successes once stood. Further investigation into this coming soon.