Tuesday, May 19, 2015
Like Doc Rivers said after the Los Angeles Clippers lost Game 7 in Houston, "We were up 3-1 with only one home game left." Being up 3-1 in a playoff series is better than being down 1-3, yes, but Doc knew what a very dangerous and scary situation his team was currently in: up 3-1 in a playoff series in which Chris Paul missed the first two games; up 3-1 in a series where Games 3 and 4 in Staples Center Los Angeles were 25+ point blowouts in favor of the Clippers; up 3-1 in a series where you get big contributions from Austin Rivers (17 points in Game 1, 25 in Game 3) off the bench. In this situation, the most dominant enemy is always complacency.
How easy to go into Game 5 in Houston (after all, the Rockets appeared to be already mentally constructing offseason travel plans following the 128-95 Game 4 blowout) and thinking 'we can win this game sleepwalking, or even if we don't, Game 6 is at home, and we want to win this series in front of the home fans anyway, so they can witness us make the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history.' How easy it looked in Game 6 when the Clippers unleashed a 3rd quarter run that included a circus, no-look 180-degree layup by Blake Griffin, which at the time seemed like the highlight of the game and the Clippers coronation to the NBA semis and rise from the era of yesteryear; away from the Donald Sterlings, Michael Olowokandis, and Danny Mannings. How easy it all looked until Josh Smith (inexplicably through any form of human logic) transformed himself into the second coming of Earvin "Magic" Johnson, and put the entire Houston Rockets organization on his back in the 4th quarter of that same Game 6, erasing a 19-point deficit faster than Blake Griffin can change the radio station in his Kia Optima. It's like Kevin McHale channeled Rudy Tomjonavich's 'don't ever underestimate the heart of a champion' speech, morphing Smith into Magic, Dwight Howard into Hakeem Olajuwon, and Corey Brewer into Mario Elie circa 1995.
The nightmare became reality so quickly for the Clippers. You could see the look on their faces. That 'we had a 3-1 lead, and now we have to play a Game 7 on the road' look. That 'how did we give up 40 points in a quarter that James Harden did not play a single minute in' look. That 'goddammit J.J. Redick, please hit an open f*#%ing 3-point look!' look. That 'maybe we're just the same ole Clippers' look. But these weren't the same Clippers. Remember in the first round when they beat the defending champion San Antonio Spurs down 3-2, including a huge Game 6 win on the road? That was supposed to be the curse eclipsing moment. Paul's one-legged runner on a bad hamstring to clinch the series in Game 7. The biggest challenge this team ran into was being the favorite and being up 3-1. Bet they wish they can all go back to Game 5 and really heed the advice of coach Rivers to not get complacent. Where's Blake's time-traveling Optima when you need it?