Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers thought they could cheat the system. They had everyone in the NBA world, including themselves, fooled. Above all else, they had me fooled, and I’m still trying to process how they did it.
First, hats off to the Denver Nuggets. I did not think they had much of a chance in this series after a seven-game slugfest against the Utah Jazz. My prediction seemed correct when the Nuggets fell behind 3-1. But somehow, the Nuggets refused to go away and came back for the second time in these playoffs. How I think the series with the Lakers will go is a different story, but for now, enjoy the moment, Denver. You have two amazing stars in Murray and Jokic.
Now for Kawhi and the Clippers. How did they do it? How did they fool everyone into thinking that they were going to be the ones to compete with LeBron? To start, their team looks fantastic on paper. Kawhi and Paul George looked like a match made in heaven, and the supporting cast was one of the best, if not the best, in the league. Players like Lou Williams, Montrez Harrell, and Patrick Beverly made this team look excellent on both sides of the ball. What could go wrong?
I believe the root of the problem starts with the now popular philosophy that the regular season doesn’t matter. It can be tough to gauge this because of the COVID break. But during the regular season, the Clippers only played 18 games with a fully healthy roster. I understand that injuries played a factor early on, but there were plenty of times one of the Clippers’ stars sat out with load management.
The long break between ordinary life and the bubble put a wrench into every team’s chemistry. As other teams relearned to play team basketball, the Clippers had to figure it out for the first time. The Clippers played well during the seeding games, but once everyone else got their act together, the Clippers have struggled to stay ahead. Pure talent alone has moved this team forward, but teamwork makes the dream work.
Most of the blame will fall on Kawhi Leonard. Whether it is his fault or not, Leonard did not help his case. The Clippers as a whole did not show up for Game 7, but everything starts with Kawhi. I love Kawhi as a player and think he’s top-five in the league right now. But a team with supposedly inferior players had them shook and ended their playoff run well before anyone expected. The Clippers thought they could turn it on and off whenever they wanted, but that is not the case. Better luck next year.