Sports Writer and Analyst. Occasionally, I will write about other topics.
The Los Angeles Clippers take an abrupt turn and unwisely part with head coach Doc Rivers.
The outcome that the Los Angeles Clippers had for the 2020 playoffs was obviously unacceptable. However, often facts are missing from sports discussions and analysis. Here are the facts from the series.
- The Clippers had a 3-1 over the Nuggets going into game 5 and the had the second-best record in the Western Conference with Paul George only playing 48 games. Similarly, Kawhi Leonard only played 57 games during the regular season.
- Kawhi and George as a duo outscored Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic in games 5 and 6.
- The Clippers had at one point a 16 point lead in game 5 and a 19 point lead in game 6
- Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams only scored a combined 10 and 19 points in games 5 and 6.
- Kawhi and George scored a total of 24 points in game 7.
- Murray scored 40 points in Game 7
- Jokic had 16 points, 22 rebounds, and 13 assists in game 7.
- LAC’s largest lead for game 7 was 9 points.
None of this suggests that head coach Doc Rivers is primarily to blame for the LAC’s loss in the Western Conference Semifinals to the Denver Nuggets. Also, it is worth noting the huge lead the Clippers gave up in games 5, 6, and 7 are just unheard of in the NBA playoffs. Other teams in the bubble have not experienced similar problems. Let’s not forget that the Clippers had the second-best record in the Western Conference.
Just for refutation's shake, LAC's loss is not comparable to when the 2010-11 Miami Heat lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA finals. Primarily, because the Heat actually made it to the NBA finals. Secondarily, the success that the Mavericks had during the 2010-11 season is not comparable to the 2019-20 Denver Nuggets. First, the Mavericks were 57-25 during the regular season. In the second round, they swept(4-0) the Los Angeles Lakers after they had won the 2010 NBA championship. In the Western Conference finals, the Mavericks beat the Oklahoma City Thunder with Kevin Durant on their roster in five games. Teams lead by Durant and Kobe Bryant lost in the playoffs to the 2010-11 Mavericks.
Another point that really is missing from the analysis is that the Nuggets had many young players that developed their games to a higher level. Nobody prior to the playoffs could have predicted how well Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., and Jerami Grant were going to play in the 2020 playoffs.
Who was guarding Murray and Jokic in game 7? Match-ups were clearly a problem for LAC as they played against the Clippers. The Clippers did not have a “big” that was skilled enough to guard Jokic.
Just for the record, no Clipper team prior to the 2019-20 team ever had a shot at making it to the Western Conference Finals. For the 2014-15 season, the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors were clearly the better teams. And in the 2016 playoffs, the Clippers lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder led by Kevin Durant.
The Clippers could have fixed their playoff problems without firing Doc Rivers.
In many respects, the Clippers were arrogant with the Nuggets and got burned. The only other team that I have seen be able to toy with opponents and still win are the Golden State Warriors with Kevin Durant.
Secondarily, the Clippers expected too much from Kawhi and George for the 2019-20 season.
After missing the playoffs last season, teams have forgotten how good Lebron James can be in the playoffs. Moreover, the trade debacle with the Pelicans has left many forgetting just how good Anthony Davis can be when he is healthy. Even as close to a year or two years ago, there were many analysts that thought that Davis was a better player than even Giannis Antetokounmpo. Similarly, people have forgotten just how dominant Durant and the Splash brothers can be as well.
In the 2019 playoffs, you had Lebron James and Davis absent. Moreover, you also had Klay Thompson and Durant suffering season-ending injuries over the course of the playoffs. If Klay had played in game 3 of the NBA finals or had been injured in game 6, the results could have been much different. Kawhi and the 2019-20 Toronto Raptors were a great team. However, winning an NBA championship with those four players healthy and playing in the playoffs is a far different scenario. Likely, the offseason for the Clippers would have gone different and their expectations for the season would have been reduced.
The 2018-19 Philadelphia 76ers were a special team. However, Joel Embidd’s health was questionable for the second round and he played on average roughly 32 minutes per game for the six games. To put his performance in perspective, Embiid for the 2020 playoffs averaged 29.8 points per 36 minutes. Embiid averaged just 18.7 points per 36 minutes in the 2019 Eastern Conference Semifinals and it took 7 games for the Raptors to beat the 76ers.
The 2017-18 Raptors before acquiring Kawhi were a great team. For the 2017-18 season, they had won 59 games. However, their season hopes dwindled after meeting James in the playoff. Could the 2017-18 Raptors have beaten the 76ers with home-court advantage and Embiid only averaging 18.7 points per 36 minutes? Most likely. Moreover, could the 2017-18 Raptors had beaten the Warriors in the NBA finals under the following conditions:
- Durant is injured and not playing
- Klay was going to miss game 3
- Klay also will not play in the 4th quarter of game 6
- Klay cannot play if there is a game 7 because of injuries
- And the Raptors will have home-court advantage in the NBA finals
The most reasonable answer is yes. And let’s not forget that George has been able to get out of the first round since he has been in the Western Conference.
From the post-game interviews, it appeared that there was some dissension as to what was expected from the Clippers this season. It appeared that some of the players did not want to play in the bubble and did not believe that the 2019-20 season was "Championship or bust season" for the Clippers. The Lakers obviously did not have that problem. This is Doc rivers fault.
The Clippers never played with a sense of "urgency" for the 2019-20 season. To outsiders everywhere, it appeared that the Clippers felt that the regular season was not important. From load management during the regular season to allegedly the Clipper duo not practicing with the team. The Clippers were not the hardest working and most prepared team during the regular season. And this carried over to the playoffs. Similarly, the Los Angeles Lakers in the early 2000s had similar issues during the regular season, however, once they got to the playoffs they always delivered. The only team that I have seen play with a lack of urgency during the playoffs and win a championship were the 2017-18 Warriors.
To be honest, the Clippers just expected too much out of George and Kawhi.
Lastly, financially, it makes sense for the Clippers to keep Williams. The Clippers are only paying Williams $8.0 million a year. The Clippers will also have north of 18 million dollars in cap space to bring in new talent. The Clippers cannot get better talent than Williams for the salary he is currently being paid. And Montrez won the 2020 Six Man of the Year.
It is hard to win a championship. And Doc was one of the most brilliant coaches in basketball. I believe that in many respects the LAC was so disappointed that they felt they had to make a drastic move.
The “Bubble” was no excuse for the LAC's downfall. The Lakers were able to get it done in the bubble. Also, the Nuggets and Boston Celtics had no problems getting to the conference finals. They should have just “ran it back.” And without Doc Rivers, the Clippers are unlikely to win a championship.