The Los Angeles Clippers have yearned to have that moment for decades.
Of course, the Clippers have found themselves in moments. The problem came in the fact that these moments generally did not favor them. Dating back to their days as the Buffalo Braves and San Diego Clippers, the franchise certainly had its fair share of, should we say, playoff underperformances. Of the franchise’s 16 total playoff berths dating back to the 1970-71 season, seven of them ended in a first-round exit. An additional three ended in a semifinal exit in the Eastern Conference, while another five ended in a semifinal departure in the Western Conference.
At this point, the proof was in the Southern California pudding. The Clippers had a postseason problem. And nothing epitomized it more than their bubble-busting (and tear-jerking) performance in the bubble last season. After averaging 107.5 points through their first four games against the Denver Nuggets in semifinal matchup in the humid but quarantined Florida bubble, the Clippers sailed ahead to a 3-1 lead, only to average 97 points in their ensuing three games and lose all three.
Another series in their grasp. Another season where they inevitably bit the dust.
The postseason pandemic started to rear its ugly head again during the team’s 2021 semifinal matchup against the Utah Jazz. Not only did the Clippers drop their first two games in the series, but their star forward in Kawhi Leonard was dealt with an ACL injury and was forced to miss the remainder of the series, even though the Clippers were able to grind back to a 2-2 series stalemate at that point.
While the Clippers were able to push through Game 5 and prevail, 119-111, the team’s postseason “habits” began to unfold once more. With one half of Game 6 basketball complete at STAPLES Center, the Clippers found themselves at the wrong end of a 72-50 score. To make matters worse, Donovan Mitchell nailed a patented downtown dime less than 30 seconds into the third quarter.
Then came L.A.
Slowly but surely a 25-point deficit quickly diminished. Over the final five+ minutes of the third quarter, the Clippers outscored the Jazz, 20-4.
94-91 with the deficit down to three.
Oh, but it didn’t end there. Over the final quarter of action, the Clippers kept the foot on the accelerator and outscored Utah, 40-25.
The end result, you might ask?
A 4-2 semifinal victory. And their first-ever Conference Finals appearance.
The Clippers might not have Leonard at their disposal, but then again, it might not matter, as weird as it sounds. If Terance Mann makes 70% of his three-pointers, perhaps not. If Paul George can activate “Playoff P” as opposed to “Pandemic P,” perhaps not. If Patrick Beverley maintains his defensive presence up and down the court, perhaps not. If Reggie Jackson facilitates the offense with his quick ball-sharing capabilities, perhaps not.
There might be a ton of “ifs” for the Clippers as they head into their Conference Finals matchup against the Phoenix Suns, but one thing is for certain.
They had that moment.
And they might have many more.