The 2019-20 LA Clippers will likely go down as the best team to date in this franchise’s history. The arrival of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, along with several other moves on the margins to bring in playoff-tested veterans, made this iteration of the Clippers more talented than any previous one, and potentially more successful.
But the 2018-19 Clippers should always have a special place in the hearts of fans. That group came into the season with very little expectations, yet brought energy and enthusiasm that had been lacking since the heyday of Lob City, creating a new template for what the Clippers should be. Even after the team overhauled its roster during the offseason, the core and the culture remain from last year’s squad.
On paper, the Clippers of last season may not have looked like much, but they worked because everyone bought into their roles, as Montrezl Harrell told Quentin Richardson and Darius Miles on the Knuckleheads podcast:
“We didn’t have nobody that was known as ‘that guy’. We just had guys that were ready to come to work, that’s what we went out and did, and it was just so crazy and so funny because nobody could really name one person who was ‘that guy on our team’, but we knew who we were, we knew what guys did well.
“We just had guys that came in and bought into the system of what Doc wanted from us, come, compete every night. We’re going to go out here and play the way we play, and if we go out here and we get beat doing that, hey, just tip your hat to them, ain’t nothing we can do about it. But nine times out of 10, we’re probably going to be the ones that win the game because of how hard we compete and the way that we play and what we can do.”
The crowning moment for that Clippers team was the first-round playoff series against the Golden State Warriors. The Clippers had no players who had ever been named to an All-Star team on their roster, while the Warriors had five future Hall of Famers in Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green.
And yet, the Clippers stole Game 2 in the biggest comeback in NBA postseason history and then won another stunner in Golden State, earning respect from around the league in the process. Over a year later, Harrell is still proud of how his team overcame the odds to test one of most talented rosters ever assembled.
“That Golden State series, man, the names. Everybody got hyped up with the names. ‘Oh, they’re going against Steph Curry, KD, Klay, man they have no chance.... [The Warriors] came in thinking that basically we didn't get paid to do the same thing that you get paid to do, and that’s play the game of basketball, and they took us lightly.... We surprised them and took ‘em all the way to a six-game series, which they weren’t prepared to do. They were looking to walk over us.”
Now, it’s the Clippers who have the talent to walk over other teams, but rest assured, Harrell and the core players from last season never take any opponent lightly. The identity they developed last year carries over to this team, and it’s one of the reasons the Clippers will be such a formidable opponent in the 2020 postseason.