Attitude and identity are two extremely underrated aspects of a professional sports team. Yes, you can be talented. Yes, you can be well coached. Of course, having both will probably make for a good team. However, it’s a story old as time: Having the right attitude and forming around an identity can make a team better than they probably should be. Look at the Utah Jazz last season. The star-level talent was minimal, but their underdog attitude and identity was strong. This led to playoff success and the emergence of a rookie star. Roles were played, players bought in, and success was generated.
Another good example is the Las Vegas Golden Knights of the NHL. Comprised of players that were literal cast-offs from other teams, they banded together under the notion that individually they wouldn’t succeed, but collectively, they could make some noise. Everyone had a role to play, everyone bought into the underdog mentality and then: The most successful debut season for any North American professional team ever.
The Clippers have been a franchise devoid of any identity for practically it’s entire existence. The Sterling-era Clippers were plagued by this, and it led to L.A. becoming a laughingstock. When L.A.’s “other team” finally had the foundation for a winning identity, in the “Lob City” era, this was quickly dissolved by injuries, “Donald Trump-Level” pettiness, and massive ego clashing that led to disappointing finishes in the playoffs and strained relationships all around.
With the trade of Blake Griffin in the middle of the 2017-18 season and the exodus of Deandre Jordan this summer, the Clips front office made it clear that it was time for a change. However, this was not a change that resulted in the new NBA trend of a tank and rebuild. Nope, instead the Clippers acquired tough, hard-nosed players that have chips on their shoulders and nothing to lose. Players that other teams didn’t want. The Clippers now have a true identity and attitude. “Clamp-City” is here and as Mike Scott eloquently stated this week, when asked about the teams identity this season: “We ain’t no b—’s.“ Their play so far this year has echoed this sentiment and is leading to success no one saw coming.
Grand opening, grand closing.— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) November 23, 2018
Gallo Block ➡️ Slam pic.twitter.com/Lc28QcVQU0
Currently, the Clippers are a half game back of first place in the Western Conference with a 12-6 record. They have played through an insanely brutal schedule thus far, only playing four teams with losing records thus far, and have won overtime games against the Milwaukee Bucks, Memphis Grizzlies, and Golden State Warriors. The Clips are nearly unbeatable at home, going 8-1 so far this season, and rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. This comes without a true “star” (I think this is untrue, as we should see *pending health* Tobias Harris make his first All-Star team this season) in a lot of people’s eyes. This is exactly how this team was formatted however: Everyone has a job to do, everyone plays to their roles, and everyone plays together. The results have been spectacular thus far.
The players on this team knew going into the first game that they were being slept on. I personally found it to be ridiculous that people thought the Clips would be worse than the 42-40 record posted last season. As mentioned before, these guys play with huge chips on their shoulders and a toughness that is sometimes lacking in the NBA. No one exemplifies these more than forward Montrezl Harrell. Before the season, Harrell was asked about the identity of this team. He said:
“When you come to the play the Clippers, you’re going to be exhausted, you’re going to be fatigued, you’re going to be emotionally drained.”
In a way, Harrell embodies this newfound Clipper identity to a tee. Undersized, gritty, underutilized in other places and yet, thriving in L.A. He is averaging career highs across the board and is the front-runner for the Most Improved Player of the Year award thus far. This underdog attitude is felt on a nightly basis as flotsam from other teams impact the game and play with a toughness that radiates throughout the team. These “Clamp City” Clippers are out to prove to the league that winning in the NBA doesn’t take top-tier talent, but a collective that forms around an identity and has great chemistry.
.@MONSTATREZZ was everywhere to help lead the @LAClippers past the Grizzlies to end their 5-game win streak!— NBA TV (@NBATV) November 23, 2018
: 22 PTS | 11 REB | 2 BLK#ClipperNation pic.twitter.com/p1fy0vXbDI
This is an identity that was formed this offseason. Head coach Doc Rivers mentioned this after the Clips overtime win over the Warriors saying:
“That’s all we talked about is gritty, tough team players. That’s all we talked about in the summertime. And we felt if we could get enough of those guys with talent, we could win some games.”
This adjustment from the talent-laden, yet underperforming “Lob City” Clippers is just what this franchise needed in order to build trust with fans and their own players. This is a team that people can rally behind and be excited about. With 9 “clutch wins” according to NBA stats, this is a team that is never out of games and can win in big moments. The Clips play a tough, yet exciting brand of basketball where grinding for wins will happen more than blowouts. This trend of closing out games and winning through fourth quarter comebacks shows the trust level and the roles played throughout this team. We know that Lou is the late game closer despite Harris being the leading scorer. We know Trez is the center in late despite Gortat starting. So far, these roles have been defined and wins have come. This isn’t a team with ego’s as Mike Scott explains:
”Everyone is close,” he added. “It’s a selfless team. We’re not ‘me, me, me’. It’s an unselfish team on both ends. We just gotta keep this thing going the way we’ve been going. Just keep playing the same way, keep sharing the ball, keep talking on defense and put these wins together.”
This is a team that genuinely enjoys playing with each other and will punch you in the mouth every night with defense, energy and egalitarian scoring ways.
Nothing will come easy against this iteration of the Clippers. They can hit you from every angle and can cause problems for your offense. They have played through one of the toughest schedules in the NBA thus far and are still hovering around the top of the Western Conference. Don’t sleep on the guys in red, blue and white. That’s bad for your health....and your team’s win column.