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Comeback Tales from “The Crypt”

The LA Clippers have set an NBA record with five 20+ point comebacks, and it tells the tale of their underdog season

Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

The LA Clippers are the NBA’s version of the undead. Tortured souls yearning for relief but feasting on those who do not abide by the one simple rule: always complete the task.

This season, the Clippers have made NBA history. According to John Schuhmann, who is the stats guru for NBA.com, the Clippers have five – yes, count them, five! — wins after trailing by at least 20 points this season. That not only leads the league for 2021-22, but it’s the most by any team in any season over the last 26 years of play-by-play data.

To make matters even crazier, the Clippers have three victories after trailing by at least 25 points, also the most in that time period. And the only other team with multiple victories during a season was also the Clippers, but back in 2018-19 when they had two. Those two wins came within a week span of one another — one on February 2, 2019, and another on February 9, 2019.

In that first game, the Clippers trailed by as much as 25 in the second quarter on the road against the Detroit Pistons. That Pistons team, ironically enough, featured now Clippers starting point guard Reggie Jackson, as well as Luke Kennard. A week later, the Clippers went into Boston and fell behind the Celtics by 28 points in the second quarter before eventually storming back to win. Starting for that Boston team that fateful February night? None other than Marcus Morris Sr., veteran forward and the Clippers’ second-leading scorer (minimum 50 games).

For good measure, the Clippers’ win probability in those two games in 2019 is pretty astounding to look back on. When Detroit took their largest lead of the game, the aforementioned 25 points, there was 5:16 to play in the second quarter. The Clippers’ win probability sat at 4.2%, according to Inpredictable. In the comeback against Boston the following week, the Clippers were down by 28 points with 4:39 to go in the second quarter, giving them a 2.2% win probability.

Now, fast forward three years. The Clippers have had a ton of turnover. Kennard, Jackson and Morris are part of L.A.’s roster, and they’re delivering their own mesmerizing comebacks as the rest of the basketball world watches on wondering how the heck they can keep doing this. But these comebacks have become even more absurd and unbelievable than they were prior to the arrival of those three players.

While Kawhi Leonard has had to watch from the sideline, and Paul George had to mend from a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, the Clippers have just kept churning out historic comeback after historic comeback. Some have labeled them the Comeback Clippers. Others have run out of superlatives to describe their uncanny ability to be the living embodiment of the “Call an ambulance, but not for me” meme.

Graphic courtesy of ESPN

This season, the Clippers have had 13 double-digit comebacks. Twelve of them have occurred with the team trailing by at least 13 points, which leads the NBA this season. Ten of those deficits have come after the first quarter. But the truly staggering realization is what happens when you just account for their most impressive comebacks.

The Clippers have stormed back from a 20-point deficit on five separate occasions. Three of those five were on the road, and only two of the five — Nov. 5 at Minnesota and Mar. 29 vs Utah — had Paul George active for the game. The other three occurred without the services of both George and Leonard, which should give you some idea as to just how improbable those comebacks truly were.

Now, maybe the Clippers don’t fall behind by 20 or 25 points as regularly if those two are active for the majority of games, but the fact remains that they have faced those deficits without their best players and still found a way to turn things around. It’s one of the more impressive feats by any team in the league this season.

According to Inpredictable’s “Comeback Factor,” which supplies a number to assess just how impressive a team’s comeback truly was considering time and score, through March 30th there had been 23 games this season with a Comeback Factor of 48.0 or higher. The LA Clippers have been on the winning side of the ledger for six of those games. Only four other teams in the league have had multiple games this season in which they’ve won with a Comeback Factor of 48.0 or higher: Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Lakers, Memphis Grizzlies and Milwaukee Bucks. All four have done it twice apiece.

2021-22 wins with a “Comeback Factor” of 48.0 or higher, per Inpredictable

But it’s not just the raw number of comebacks from down double-digits, and it’s not about the fact they’ve won five games when trailing by at least 20 points. What it really boils down to is the undeniable fact that the Clippers, even when faced with daunting odds, don’t quit.

As of March 30th, the Clippers had six wins this season when their win probability was at 2% or lower at any point during the game. If you can believe it, five of those six wins are since the calendar flipped to 2022. Those six games have been evenly split, as well, with three coming at home and three on the road. Four of the six — at Brooklyn (2.0%), at Philadelphia (2.0%), vs Utah (1.5%) and vs Denver (1.4%) — came against teams either in the postseason or in the play-in.

Their most improbable win, a 35-point comeback in Washington that saw them fitted with a 0.1% win probability when they trailed by six with 11 seconds to play, completely changed the course of their season. Had they lost, they would have slipped to three games under .500 and looking a potentially disastrous road trip square in the eyes. Instead, a win for the ages.

A few days before that, they picked themselves off the mat against their former coach and beat the Philadelphia 76ers after trailing by 24 in the third quarter, and Doc Rivers took offense afterwards to a line of questioning inquiring how much coaching was to blame for what took place.

It was part of a two week stretch where the Clippers had three historic comebacks. They’d add a fourth one in late March, this time against a Utah team that was crumpling under the weight of expectations and a potentially toxic blame game in the locker room.

No matter the opponent, no matter the available players, no matter the odds. This Clippers team fights, scraps and claws. They’ve taken on the demeanor of their head coach, never getting too high nor too low.

With a week left in the season, the Clippers are 38-40. Their magic number for the eighth spot in the Western Conference, and a chance at two cracks of an actual postseason berth thanks to the play-in, stands at two. A win on Sunday against the New Orleans Pelicans would do the trick. Yet that isn’t the real story.

The real story is a team filled with roleplayers and veterans has found a way to consistently push the envelope in a season unlike any other, never giving in despite what the odds say. And if you’re an opponent rolling into Crypto.com Arena, you best understand one important thing …

The Clippers aren’t locked in “The Crypt” with you. Quite the contrary.

You’re locked in there with them. Good luck.


You can find Justin Russo’s daily content on the LA Clippers by subscribing to his Patreon feed, and you can also follow him on Twitter at @FlyByKnite.

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