The Clippers were eliminated from the NBA Playoffs a week ago this evening at the hands of the Golden State Warriors. While it was a sad moment, it was the culmination of a magnificent season, and their promise shown through time and time again, signifying the brightness of their future. And, although the Clippers didn’t pull off the greatest upset of all time in actually taking the series from the Warriors, their pushing the series to 6 games, and the manner in which they did so, meant they came out of the series looking better than ever. However, the playoffs are not over, and each remaining series has some sort of impact or influence on the Clippers’ season — and future. Let’s run through them quickly, from most to least significant.
This one is obvious. The Clippers’ number one target this summer has been Kawhi Leonard for well over a year now. Per the rumor mill, the number one rival for him is his current team, the Toronto Raptors. So, the Clippers should be rooting for Kawhi to be great, but for the Raptors to fall short of their championship aspirations. That’s exactly what’s taken place thus far in the second round. Kawhi has been a beast, averaging over 35 points per game on incredible shooting numbers against the Sixers, and playing incredible defense. Over the course of the series, however, he’s become an increasingly one-man show, with some help from rising star Pascal Siakam, and the Sixers now lead 2-1 after a dominant Game 3.
The Sixers have taken homecourt advantage, and all the momentum is going their way. Now, the series is far from over, and the Raptors could certainly turn things around. But, if things continue along the same path, the Sixers should win this series, and the Raptors would come up very shy of expectations. If the Raptors lost in the 2nd round, especially with the lack of support Kawhi has received, it would be surprising if he stayed in Toronto. That can only help the Clippers, even though there will be plenty of other suitors for him this summer. Just as a bonus, watching Tobias Harris and Mike Scott shine in the playoffs, especially Tobias, has just been great.
Unlike the series above, this one has few direct free agency implications. Kevin Durant is the only major available free agent (I remain convinced Klay Thompson is going absolutely nowhere), and I think he’s leaving the Warriors no matter what, so them losing or winning this series doesn’t matter all that much.
The reason this series matters is that the Warriors’ beating the Rockets in a short series makes the Clippers look better retrospectively. The Warriors are playing harder against the Rockets, sure, but many people picked the Rockets to win the series, or push the Warriors to 7. Right now, down 2-0, such an outcome looks unlikely. James Harden has been off since the middle of the 1st round, Chris Paul appears to have lost a gear, and the Rockets’ bench is horrible. If the Warriors beat the Rockets in 5, the Clippers’ performance in round one looks all the more impressive.
Bucks-Celtics is 1-1, and the first two games have been a blowout in either direction, so this is the series that might be most up in the air right now. Once again, this is a series with more free agent implications, namely on Celtics’ point guard Kyrie Irving. Now, Kyrie has barely been mentioned to the Clippers this summer despite being a Tier-A free agent who seems to desire the national media/attention/spotlight. His free agency decision is a bigger factor for the Clippers in how it relates to Durant, who is a Clippers’ target.
Kyrie and KD have been linked most frequently to the Knicks, particularly in recent months. If Kyrie stays with the Celtics, it’s quite possible that Durant abandons the Knicks, as Irving is the best player/fit to join him there unless someone shocking decides to follow KD to the Knicks as well. Therefore, the Celtics going deep into the playoffs, and convincing Kyrie that their future is bright, would presumably make KD more likely to consider non-Knicks options — including the Clippers. As dirty as it feels, Clippers’ fans should be rooting for a deep Celtics playoff run, certainly a win this series against the Bucks.
This is by far the least consequential of the series in relation to the Clippers. Really, it’s just the next step of the Warriors-Rockets series: if neither the Nuggets nor Blazers look like challengers to the Warriors (and neither do), a sweep or easy five game series would seem to await the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. If the Warriors get through the rest of the Western Conference Playoffs losing fewer games than they lost to the Clippers... well, the Clippers would look very good indeed.
Basically, rooting interests for Clippers’ fans should be: Sixers over Raptors (with Kawhi playing well), Warriors over Rockets in a blowout, Celtics over Bucks, and Blazers-Nuggets being a slugfight with neither team looking anywhere close to the Warriors’ level. These are all possibilities right now, and hopefully the rest of the playoffs play out to the Clippers’ benefit.