I’m thinking about a team, based in a historic city. They’re defensive-minded and led by a top-tier coach and two elite, two-way wings. They play their best when they’re sharing the ball, but their offense can sometimes fall into the hero-ball isolation trap, especially considering their lack of a “true” point guard. And their biggest star earned the respect of, and trained with, the late great Kobe Bryant.
So which team am I talking about? It’s tough, isn’t it?
For all these parallels, however, there are some notable differences.
The Clippers shoot better from deep. The Celtics are younger and rebound a lot better. Boston has more depth in the frontcourt, but Los Angeles has a deeper wing rotation. And, most notably, one team’s season ended in mid-June, while the other one finished up two months prior, in April. Granted, injuries and a particularly untimely COVID infection got in the way of the Clippers, but still.
However, one thing is for certain: Boston proved that this brand of basketball can win. And it can win at the highest level. When they were clicking, the Celtics were fearsome. An offense laden with multi-level threats moving in tandem with a stifling, switchable defense propelled their season all the way to the NBA Finals, falling just two wins short of a championship.
Next year, the Clippers look to build upon that blueprint as Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Norman Powell will spearhead their offense while Ivica Zubac, Nicolas Batum, and Robert Covington anchor their defense. The beauty in this construction, however, are the defensive abilities of Leonard, George, and Powell, as well as the offensive versatility of Zubac, Batum, and Covington.
Their roster is further flushed out with complimentary pieces such as Luke Kennard, Reggie Jackson, and Terance Mann. And coach Tyronn Lue, who has already shown his ability to turn a box of role players into a playoff contender, ought to be salivating at the prospect of playing around with full seasons from Leonard, George, and Powell (I know, I know, health permitting. I’m knocking on wood as we speak, don’t worry).
Both teams expect to start the season healthy, with one team chasing their 18th ring while the other looks to secure their first. It’s a long season, and anything can happen, but Clippers fans should find encouragement in the idea that if Boston can get to the Finals, so can the Clippers.
And, luckily for us, they share one last parallel: these two teams, playing parallel strains of basketball, seem determined to play their best basketball yet.