Wow, what a decade it’s been for the Clippers. If this was being written in 2009 to recap the 2000’s, I would have had to really reach for great moments to think of. Besides a lone playoff appearance in 2006, I genuinely can’t think of more than like five or six. For this decade, I had to cut some legitimately big moments.
The 2010’s were the most successful, yet perhaps the most turbulent time era in Clippers history. It was an era that saw the most wins, most playoff appearances, biggest stars, and greatest relevancy but also saw the most controversy. It was a decade that featured talent built from the ground up within the franchise, excellent (and not so excellent) trades for both players and coaches, star free-agency acquisitions, and a changing of the guard in the front office.
These ten years also saw the Clippers’ owner ousted for being the racist everyone knew he already was, and saw one of the more talented NBA teams of the decade crumble. There were plenty of reasons for what transpired, but JJ Redick symbolized it the best when he described the players within the “Lob City” era as engaging in “Donald Trump level pettiness.” Despite the success they had, for some, this decade represented disappointment for expectations that were sky-high. For others, these past ten years represented a positively changing franchise that is now set up for success for years to come.
However you slice it, this was not 10 years of monotony for the Los Angeles Clippers. More good than bad happened and we should celebrate it. Here are the top 10 best Clipper moments of the 2010’s.
Blake Griffin’s real rookie season
The dreaded Clippers curse reared its ugly head in 2009. The Clips were gifted the number one pick and subsequently drafted the consensus best player in the draft, Blake Griffin. After winning Summer League MVP and playing well through the preseason, Blake injured his kneecap in the final game of said preseason. What was originally thought to be a seven week injury turned into a season long ordeal and Blake missed his “true” rookie season. An ugly start, sure. But any doubts about his talent or health was quickly assuaged in his “real” rookie season in 2010-2011.
Blake became the first rookie since 2003 to be named to the All-Star team. He had the longest rookie double-double streak (27 games) since 1968, became the first rookie since 1997 to have multiple 40 point games in a season, won the slam dunk contest, won all six Western Conference Rookie of the Month awards, and became the first rookie to average 20 and 10 since 2000. This led to being the first unanimous Rookie of the Year award winner since David Robinson in 1990. You truly can’t have a better start to your career than that. Blake put the league on notice that he wasn’t to be overlooked. While the Clippers only finished that season 32-50, help was about to be on its way.
David Stern vetoes a trade sending Chris Paul to the Lakers, subsequently allowing him to be sent to Clippers, ushering in the “Lob City” era
A lot has been made over the rationale of David Stern’s choice to veto the trade that would have sent Chris Paul to the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. At the time, the league owned the New Orleans Hornets, Chris Paul’s home. Would the Lakers have been too good? Would it have ruined the league? Did he want to add parity in LA? Did Stern really believe that he could convince Paul to opt into his deal and try to build a team in NOLA? Whatever happened behind closed doors has never truly been revealed.
All we know is that CP3 was traded to the Clippers in a package that included Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, and Al-Farouq Aminu. The Clips now possessed the best young player in the league and the best point guard in the NBA. In Blake’s own words, Paul coming to LA “Put us on the map”. The Clips were no longer an afterthought, they were a team to be reckoned with, with talent to compete for supremacy in the always tough Western Conference.
Clippers win Pacific Division for first time in 2012-13, and win it again the next year
Since joining the Pacific Division in 1978, the Clippers have seen themselves at the bottom for the majority of their existence. This started to change in the 2010’s. While teams like the Lakers, Warriors, and Suns have made this division probably the toughest on a year to year basis, the Clippers new roster propelled them to the top in back to back seasons in 2013 and 2014. While this may seem like small potatoes for fans of other franchises with numerous championships, these division titles symbolized a changing of the guard (the Lakers always dominated this division) and showed that the Clips winning ways were here to stay.
Clippers make a trade for Doc Rivers
Despite having Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, the ever-improving defensive stalwart in DeAndre Jordan, and acquiring guys like Jamal Crawford, Caron Butler, Chauncey Billups, and Matt Barnes in recent years, the Clips were still disappointing when it mattered. After winning the Pacific Division in 2012-13 with Vinny Del Negro at the helm, the Clips faced off against the five-seeded “Grit and Grind” Memphis Grizzlies. The Clips took a comfortable 2-0 lead at home in the series behind the stellar play of CP3 and company, only to see their lead diminish quicker than you can say “Donald Sterling stinks”. The Clippers went on to lose the next four games handily, all by more than 10 points, and their most successful season ever was over just like that. Something had to be done.
Del Negro never was too popular of a coach, either with fans or in the locker room. In order to get this team to reach the levels their talent possessed, they needed someone with a championship pedigree. In a stroke of genius move by Gary Sacks, VP of Basketball Operations, the Clippers traded an unprotected 2015 first-round draft pick to the Celtics for Doc. Doc was also handed the reigns of the front-office, becoming the Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations. While the front-office move has not been looked upon fondly in retrospect (and was revoked eventually), Doc has consistently been a fantastic coach in LA and is the reason people come to LA to play.
V Stiviano records Clippers owner Donald Sterling communicating racist vitriol, exposing him publicly and getting him banned from the NBA for life
On April 25, 2014, TMZ released a secret recording of communication between Donald Sterling’s “girlfriend” V Stiviano and Sterling himself commenting on her “association” with people of African-American descent. In a largely African-American league, this type of vitriol was lambasted and in turn, found Sterling in boiling hot water. Adam Silver, the NBA’s new commissioner appointed in February of 2014, made his first big move by banning Sterling from the league for life on April 29 — effectively terminating his ability to own the LA Clippers. The crazy part about all of this? The Clippers were engaged in a tough playoff series with the Golden State Warriors at the time. In an act of solidarity, on April 27, before the decision was handed down, the team silently protested Sterling by turning their warmups inside out, so as to not show the Clippers logo, and wore black armbands and socks. Sterling was banned two days later, and the Clippers eventually won that series in seven games.
Some less educated on the matter may be asking why this would be included in a “best of” Clipper list. Granted, it was a huge stain on the franchise, but one that was probably necessary for the betterment of the team as a whole. Donald Sterling was the worst owner in North American sports. Cheap, racist, careless, and stupid — he ran the Clippers into the ground all for the sake of his bottom line. By banning him, the Clippers were able to reset their franchise and start anew with Steve Ballmer at the helm. The Clips went from the poorest run franchise in the league to perhaps the best in the span of five years. We truly have Stiviano and Silver to thank, as well as Ballmer’s deep pockets and belief in the Clippers’ brand.
Chris Paul’s buzzer beater to beat the defending champion San Antonio Spurs in Round 1 of the 2015 NBA Playoffs
The date: May 2, 2015. The site: Staples Center. The stakes: A birth in the Western Conference semifinals.
The Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs are deadlocked at 3-3 in the series. The Spurs are defending champions and the Clippers are the butt of every NBA joke. Down 3-2 after 5, they take game six in San Antonio, (probably the toughest home court in the history of the NBA playoffs) 102-96. Chris Paul has a game high 15 assists to go along with 19 crucial points.
In Game 7 we see a back and forth affair with each team trading buckets. Tied at 109 with 8 seconds left, Doc Rivers calls a simple middle of the floor iso for Chris Paul. Basically playing on one leg after injuring his left hamstring in the first quarter and being guarded by notoriously tough defender Danny Green, he performs one hesitation move and take several dribbles into the lane.
He isn’t really able to shake Green, but another last minute hesitation and slight movement backwards gives him a brief second to get a shot off. He takes a right handed floater and it just passes the outstretched arms of Hall-of-Famer Tim Duncan who was helping in the lane. The ball hangs in the air for what seemed like five minutes. Bank. In. Game over.
This is still the biggest shot in Clippers history. While the next round, against the Rockets, might be the most disappointing moment in Clipper history, for a brief moment, the Clippers really felt like championship contenders.
Jamal Crawford is the first true 6 God/DeAndre Jordan becomes an All-Star
Before arriving in LA, Crawford was a notorious “good stats, bad team” player. Despite being a consistent 18+ a game scorer, in his first ten seasons in the league, Crawford never made the playoffs. After moving to a bench role for the Atlanta Hawks, Crawford kept balling — but also started winning. When Crawford came to LA in 2012, the winning continued. By then (after winning his first 6MOY in ATL), Crawford had turned the art of the 6th man into a dangerous weapon. In turn, he won two more 6MOY trophies during his time with the Clippers, becoming the first person to win three. Crawford was an essential part of the “Lob City” era and a huge reason they were as successful as they were.
So was DeAndre Jordan. Jordan turned himself from afterthought to All-Star during his Clippers tenure. From bench player to gold medalist. From non double-figure scorer in his first five seasons in the league to 1st team All-NBA. It was a truly awesome development story that not a lot of people saw coming. I remember going to a game in 2010, his second season, where he airmailed three shots in the paint and was benched. To go from barely playing to one of the best bigs in the league is a testament to the Clippers belief in him and the hard work he put in.
Clippers trade Chris Paul for Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell & Patrick Beverley
All good things must come to an end. After back-to-back seasons flaming out of the first-round of the playoffs (also, back-to-back Blake Griffin injuries before or during these series didn’t help), the Clips were at a crossroads. Do they run it back with the glue of the Lob City era — CP, Blake, JJ, Jamal, DeAndre — and pay those guys absurd amounts of money despite aging and injuries already being a factor? Or, do they try to maneuver some pieces and see if they can win other ways? Remember, everyone was calling for the Clips to start a tank. The Clips had other ideas.
On June 28, 2017, The Clippers traded Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets for Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, and a few other pieces that the Clips ended up waiving. In what seemed like a lopsided winning trade for the team down South, little did anyone know that inheriting these players (well, not Dekker) would be a huge blessing for LA. Lou almost retired, no one knew what Harrell could be, and Pat, while a great defensive player, was a journeyman. These three were a huge reason why the Clippers were able to maintain winning records and a playoff appearance over the last two seasons, despite trading two separate leading scorers from the squad mid-year in 2018 and 2019, and a big part of the culture change that eventually brought top-flight free-agents to LA.
It’s crazy to look back on this trade now and see that the Clippers probably won it. Lou and Trezz have turned into borderline all-stars and award candidates every season, while Pat is the glue that keeps this team together and its vocal leader. Paul meanwhile spent two injury-riddled seasons in Houston with no Finals appearances and now has a contract that is considered too expensive to trade. Wild stuff.
The whole 2018-19 season, especially the 31 point comeback against the Golden State Warriors in Round 1 of the Playoffs
Before the season started, the Clippers were picked by damn near every NBA media outlet to be outside of the Western Conference playoff race by the end of the year. No one knew what they had with this team. Sure, they had talent in Lou (who no one thought could replicate what he had done the year before), the newly-acquired Tobias Harris, the oft-injured Danilo Gallinari, and the mightily slept-on Trezz, but those aren’t names that get you recognition in the tough ass West. When you factor in Patrick Beverley and Avery Bradley returning from season-ending injuries the year before, the Clips trading Austin Rivers for Marcin Gortat and giving big minutes to rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — the likelihood that this team was good was low.
It’s crazy what can happen when you get a team to believe in themselves. Not only did the Clippers make the playoffs, they were a near 50 win team that traded their leading scorer and rebounder at the trade deadline and got better after. Bringing over guys like Ivica Zubac, JaMychal Green, and Landry Shamet turned their season around and set the foundation for future success. By the end of the season, you had a team that was fully bought in, healthy, and afraid of no one. This showed in their first-round series against the defending two-time champion Golden State Warriors.
Despite being heavily outmatched in the talent department, the Clippers took two off the Warriors, both in Oakland, with one of those wins coming after being down by 31 in the their quarter. The biggest come from behind victory in NBA playoff history. While the Clips ended up losing the series in six, it showed the world what these players were capable of doing on a big stage and earned the respect of their peers and fans alike worldwide. A respect that carried over into the summer…
Clippers acquire Kawhi Leonard and Paul George
So much has been written about LA getting these two this offseason that there isn’t reason for me to spend too much time on it. However, the Clippers ability to attract big name free-agents to their franchise is something that fans of this team have never really seen before. Players in the Sterling era were begrudgingly here, then ran for the hills when their contracts were up. Getting Kawhi and making a trade for a very-happy-to-be-in-LA Paul George was the ultimate sign that this franchise had officially turned it around and had cleared up the rubble from decades of incompetence and embarrassment. While we still have to wait and see if this translates into rings, the fact that big name players wanted to be in a Clippers uniform and represent a changing of the guards is rare for Clippers fans and extremely cool to see.
Well, was there anything I missed? What do you think belongs in this category for coolest and best Clippers moments of the decade?