It’s almost midnight, and I haven’t written properly about the Clippers in over two years, but after tonight, I can’t keep myself away from the keyboard. The Clippers were just knocked out of the playoffs by the back-to-back champion Golden State Warriors in 6 games. And if I’m being totally honest, I’m staring at this crumpled ticket in a state of complete shock right now.
It’s not because the Clippers lost—we know how good this Warriors team is—but it’s that this team’s story went as far as it did.
This team was supposed to win 35 games. This team was supposed to miss the playoffs. This team was supposed to lose their only two games at Oracle Arena, on the way to being swept out of the first round. And this team was supposed to quietly enter the post-season after April 10th with a late-lottery pick, before vainly trying to lure superstars to Los Angeles with unseen (but assuredly promised) potential.
But this team, devoid of any All Stars, media exposure, and (perhaps most importantly) expectations, has accomplished far more than they were supposed to. With 14 different starting lineups (12 of which featured one or more rookies), the Clippers won 48 games, earned the 8th seed in the playoffs, won two games in Oracle, and pushed arguably the best team of all time to 6 games. In the last 2 years, no team has gotten past 5 games with the Warriors, outside of one series against the Chris Paul and James Harden-led Rockets.
But how could all of the analysts, all of the great sports minds, all of the scouts, and even the experts at Las Vegas be so wrong about what this Clippers team could do?
Heart. Tons and tons of it. An immeasurable, unpredictable, and tremendously powerful attribute, heart is what kept the team fighting when they were down 31 points. And this team’s heart is best personified in its 6’1”, 172 lb guard that pulled down 38 boards in the last 3 games of the series, Patrick Beverley. In my many visits to the Staples Center this year, I’ve seen Pat dancing hilariously with ushers, excitedly signing anything and everything placed in front of him, joking around with fans, and mostly just exuding pure joy before every single game he plays. And then on the court, Pat got the crowd more involved in games than I’d ever seen in the past, with sheer willpower (and a reliable jumpshot) making an impact on all 94 feet of the court—truly the heartbeat of this Clippers team.
But there’s so much to love about the rest of the team too: the humility of Lou Williams, the tenacious energy of Montrezl Harrell, the unwavering focus of Danilo Gallinari, the insane maturity and effortlessness of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the butter-smooth jumpshot of Landry Shamet, and so many other amazing roleplayers that knew their roles precisely and were eager to play them. And of course, there’s Ralph Lawler, who has been a part of every single Clipper team for the last 40 years and was a huge part of this one. Hearing him yell “BINGO” at the Landry Shamet three that sealed the deal in Oakland will bring tears to my eyes as long as I’m a Clipper fan.
Last, but not least, were the fans this season. While certain matchups still attracted a ton of opposing fans, there were far more games this year where the Clipper Faithful drowned out the competition, as they should—even more noticeably than during the Lob City Era, when the bandwagon was at an all-time high. It has been absurdly easy to fall in love with this team, and no matter what happens this off-season and no matter who steps on the court next year, the 2018-19 Clippers will have been my favorite squad of all time.