Clippers Fell Short To Rockets, But Still Exceeded Playoff Expectations


May 17, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) reacts after a play during the second quarter against the Houston Rockets in game seven of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Clippers blew an incredible chance to make the Western Conference finals. That can’t be forgotten. However, despite the disappointing end to their season, they still exceeded their doubtful expectations when they faced the defending champion San Antonio Spurs in the first round.

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Other than Blake Griffin’s triple double dominance during the earlier stages of this year’s playoffs, occasional brilliance from Austin Rivers, and a series winning shot in game seven against the Spurs from Chris Paul, there aren’t that many positives to take from the Clippers’ postseason. That’s what a blowing a 3-1 series lead in the second round does to an otherwise promising playoff team. The Clippers could have advanced to the Western Conference finals for the first time in franchise history, but their weak second unit and lack of urgency and mental toughness let them down.

They can’t be let off the hook for losing a 3-1 series lead to the Houston Rockets. Especially as they won games three and four by a margin of 25+ points each. It’s the kind of turnaround that no one saw coming. Not even blissfully hopeful Rockets’ fans. Although, their belief in The Beard paid off.

This article isn’t being written with the intention to say that the Clippers disproved all doubters by becoming true championship contenders, and overcoming their never-ending odds of being doomed to fail in the second round. Because anyone in the Clippers’ organization will admit that they blew their (multiple) chances. That being said, before the Clippers’ new bandwagon fans turned back into critics after their elimination, there are some positives to take away.

May 12, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) is congratulated by guard Jamal Crawford (11) while playing against the Houston Rockets in the first half in game five of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

One of the main reasons their postseason is now being viewed as such a disappointment — other than the fact they lost a 3-1 lead against Houston — is that the expectations placed upon them rapidly increased after they defeated the Spurs. Not just in ordinary fashion, but by facing elimination in game six and winning back-to-back games to win the series.

The Clippers were underdogs against the Spurs and won. And it instantly rewarded (or cursed) them with sky-high predictions from fans and critics everywhere.

With a triple double from Griffin (24 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists) and a game winner from Paul in game seven, the Clippers looked like they’d changed. They looked as though they could step up in the fourth quarter, the bench were actually contributing, and they closed out a series against one of the toughest dynasties the NBA has seen in the last 20 years.

So after such a strong performance, it seemed as though a matchup against the Rockets could be even easier than the first round for the Clippers. And after taking a 3-1 lead, it seemed almost certain that L.A. would be advancing to the Conference finals for the first time in franchise history.

Even if the Clippers fell to the Rockets in any other way — either by losing a series that went back and forward throughout, or even by losing in four games and being deemed as the inferior team — it would still have looked better than taking control with two dominant wins (124-99 in game three and 128-95 in game four) and “choking” to lose the series.

In game six against the Rockets, the Clippers were just one quarter away from advancing. Instead of maintaining their composure and seeing the series out, they lost the final quarter 40-15 and wasted a 19 point third quarter lead.

They allowed Corey Brewer and Josh Smith to combine for 29 points in the final 12 minutes alone. And to add insult to injury, James Harden didn’t play a single second in the fourth, and neither The Beard or Dwight Howard made a field goal.

Instead, they rode their bench to victory.

By that point, the Rockets had all the momentum and confidence they needed to complete their comeback.

However, as we need to wait months for Clippers’ basketball to return, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t remember the positives of their postseason (prior to the collapse).

May 17, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers walks off the court after game seven of the second round of the NBA Playoffs against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center. The Rockets defeated the Clippers 113-100 to win the series 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Against the Spurs, the Clippers still showed what they’re capable of. Yes, the loss to the Rockets has made it incredibly forgettable, but when their bench performed in the first round, L.A. had the depth to support their stars which can make them worthy contenders.

In the first round, Griffin averaged 24.1 points, 13.1 rebounds and 7.4 assists, Paul averaged 22.7 points on 51.1 percent shooting and 7.9 assists, and DeAndre Jordan averaged 12.6 points, 13.3 rebounds and 2.6 blocks.

More importantly, though, their bench rose to the occasion. Austin Rivers scored 16 points on 87.5 percent shooting in a critical game four (as his Clippers were down 2-1) and Jamal Crawford added 16 points in game seven to help bring the series to a close.

In short, they delivered under pressure.

Once they can do that on a consistent basis, they’ll be able to move past the criticism of being destined to fail by the second round.

May 4, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) looks at the replay during a Houston Rockets timeout in game one of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Los Angeles Clippers won 117 to 101. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

If they can find the cap space to add any amount of depth to their bench, whether that may be another combo-guard or backup big, the Clippers’ chances of contending next year increase once again.

There’s no denying that they should have defeated the Rockets, but once again it came down to their mental state and a lack of second unit production more than anything else.

Paul, Griffin and Jordan still combined for a very respectable 61.7 points, 16.6 assists and 29.9 rebounds against Houston. And if the Clippers’ mental toughness and killer instinct can reappear and continue to grow (as it began to against the Spurs), and they can acquire some extra support to help their big three, L.A. can come back even stronger next year.

It’s easier said than done, but mental maturation and consistent role players are all the Clippers need.

The hard part is finding a trio of superstars, but thankfully for L.A., they already have that. It’s just the complementary pieces that need to fall into place.

They did fail to deliver against the Rockets, but the Clippers still showed signs of growth against the Spurs — even if they weren’t able to make it last with their current emphasis on star power over depth.

Next: Doc Rivers: Keeping Jordan And Clippers' Core Is His Priority