The Clippers pinned their title hopes on grit and substance, but they were all bark and no bite

Quickly after, the Clippers rolled out slogans supposed to put across their grit and differentiate themselves from the Lakers, their glitzy crosstown competitors: “Pushed over given,” “We over me,” “Squad over self,” and “Streetlights over spotlights.”

However the promised substance on the center of the Clippers’ messaging marketing campaign was once nowhere to be discovered within the playoff moments that mattered. As a substitute, the slogan that easiest are compatible their disastrous cave in within the NBA bubble was once one no crew ever needs: “All bark, no chew.”

Technically, the Clippers’ disastrous cave in was once a chain of disastrous collapses. The Denver Nuggets rallied from a 12-point deficit on Tuesday to overcome Los Angeles going away, 104-89 in Sport 7 in their second-round collection, after rallying from a 16-point deficit to win Sport five and a 19-point deficit to win Sport 6. With a Three-1 lead and 3 probabilities to advance to the convention finals for the primary time within the franchise’s 50-year historical past, the Clippers went zero for three and have been outscored via a mixed 94-59 within the fourth quarters in their ultimate 3 losses.

“That hurts, that hurts, it hurts, it hurts,” George stated. “However you progress on. 12 months one in combination. First run in combination.”

As Denver’s Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic hit giant photographs and dished crisp assists, L.A.’s superstars tossed up bricks and iced over within the second. Leonard completed with 14 issues on 22 photographs and was once a minus-21; George tallied 10 issues on 16 photographs and was once a minus-20. In combination, they dedicated seven turnovers and shot one unfastened throw of their mixed 82 mins. When the Nuggets went on runs, the Clippers’ superstars didn’t thrust back, they didn’t get stops and so they didn’t drive the problem via going to the basket.

This was once a swift comeuppance for a Clippers crew that chirped greater than every other within the bubble, each from the bench all through video games and in entrance of the microphones in a while. In a while earlier than the playoffs, George and Patrick Beverley mocked Portland Path Blazers guard Damian Lillard for lacking a grab unfastened throw, with George telling Lillard that he was once “getting despatched house this 12 months” and Beverley including, “Cancun on 3.”

Within the first around, Montrezl Harrell was once stuck on digicam calling Dallas Mavericks famous person Luka Doncic a “b—- a — white boy.” (Harrell later apologized.) Marcus Morris additionally engaged in chest-to-chest talks with Doncic after handing over a couple of arduous fouls, main Doncic to mention after the collection that he “[doesn’t] wish to handle that roughly participant.”

Then, after a Sport Three win in the second one around, Beverley accused Jokic of promoting calls and sideswiped Doncic within the procedure. “He gifts the similar factor [Luka] Doncic gifts: a large number of flailing,” Beverley stated. He places a large number of force at the referees to make the correct calls.”

All that speak, all that self belief, all that gamesmanship and all the ones avid gamers and draft alternatives that landed George from the Oklahoma Town Thunder yielded handiest the largest unhappiness in franchise historical past. Slightly than open the Western Convention finals towards the Lakers on Friday after greater than a 12 months of anticipation, the Clippers have been left to type in the course of the wreckage. (It additionally were given the Clippers roundly mocked on social media, led via their previous goal, Lillard.)

“We didn’t meet [expectations],” stated Rivers, who additionally oversaw the Clippers’ Three-1 playoff cave in to the Houston Rockets in 2015. “That’s the base line. I’m the trainer and I’ll take any blame.”

Rivers admitted that he by no means felt assured when the Clippers held giant second-half leads, pointing to his crew’s conditioning problems and loss of shared revel in. A few of that was once out of his keep watch over: The Clippers had well being problems all season, Williams and Harrell each departed the bubble to wait funerals, and Beverley suffered a calf damage that sidelined him for stretches of the playoffs.

But the Clippers had spent all 12 months diligently proscribing the wear and tear and tear on Leonard and George, saving them for the playoffs and the largest moments. Rivers even stated in April that the Clippers have been striving to “win the wait” via retaining their avid gamers in form and engaged all through the NBA’s four-month hiatus because of the unconventional coronavirus. Greater than a 12 months of load control nonetheless ended with heavy legs.

“We had guys that simply couldn’t play mins,” Rivers stated. “That’s arduous.”

The Clippers crew that confirmed up within the bubble loved some memorable heights, together with a Sport five blowout win over the Mavericks by which they scored a postseason franchise-record 154 issues and a powerful 120-97 victory over the Nuggets in Sport 1. However they lacked consistency and camaraderie, pointing palms at the court docket after errors and having a look misplaced when faced with adversity.

“We did have championship expectancies,” veteran guard Lou Williams stated. “We had the ability to do it. I don’t assume we had the chemistry to do it, and it confirmed.”

That began with their superstars, whose determination to crew up remaining summer season put in the Clippers because the early identify favorites. Whilst the Lakers’ new duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis temporarily meshed off and on the court docket, Leonard and George by no means rather were given there. The tip of the collection towards the Nuggets devolved into “my flip, your flip” play, and the Clippers’ signature energy — perimeter protection — was once shredded.

Of their season-ending loss, Leonard and George have been badly outplayed via Murray, who scored a game-high 40 issues, and Jokic, who posted 16 issues, 22 rebounds and 13 assists. Regardless of being considerably more youthful, Denver’s duo was once extra comfy, extra assertive, extra centered and more practical. The late-game heroics that outlined Leonard’s Finals MVP run with the title-winning Toronto Raptors remaining 12 months have been nowhere to be discovered, and George’s checklist of playoff hiccups added every other bankruptcy.

“There’s at all times force to are living as much as identify expectancies,” George stated. “As a participant you need that. It’s the primary time I’ve been in that scenario the place we’re anticipated to win. … We didn’t are living as much as that expectation. However I believe internally, we’ve at all times felt this isn’t a ‘championship or bust’ 12 months for us. We will handiest recuperate the longer we keep in combination and the extra we’re round every different. The extra chemistry for this workforce, the simpler. I believe that’s in reality the story of the tape for this season. We didn’t have sufficient time in combination.”

Abruptly, regardless that, the Clippers should be interested in how a lot more time they have got in combination. Leonard, George and Williams are all set to turn out to be unfastened brokers in 2021, whilst Harrell and Morris are unfastened brokers this offseason. The Clippers have been constructed for nowadays with little regard for day after today, and nowadays simply resulted in a nightmare that brought about every other around of acquainted name callings.

“The Lakers will at all times personal Los Angeles,” Magic Johnson wrote on Twitter, including exclamation issues and a smiley face for emphasis. “It’ll by no means alternate.”

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