In December of 2011, the Los Angeles Clippers franchise was rejuvenated when they traded for one the of the game’s best point guards: Chris Paul. The Clippers have always played under the shadows of their same-town rival Los Angeles Lakers, but fortunes were only going up after the acquisition of their own superstar. With rising star Blake Griffin and high-energy big Deandre Jordan already on the team, the Clippers were beginning to make a name for themselves and dubbed the nickname “Lob City”. They quickly became one of the most exciting teams in the league and made the playoffs for the first time in 6 years. The Clippers’ first playoff run with Paul ended in the Conference Semifinals, and the team sent a message that showed they would become one of the top teams in the West. However, the disappointment in LA had just begun.
Heading into the 2012-2013 season, the team that had never reached a Conference Finals was already thinking of bringing home a championship. With the big three of Paul-Griffin-Jordan entering their first full year together, the team finished first in their division and posted the best record in franchise history at 56-26. Their first round match-up was a rematch with the Memphis Grizzlies, and the Clippers quickly took a 2-0 lead in the series, but they didn’t win another game and fell 2-4. The 2013-2014 season started with the same championship aspirations with the addition of champion coach Doc Rivers, and the Clippers’ regular season play led them to become one of the favorites to take the chip. Finishing 3rd in the West, they defeated the Golden State Warriors in a close 7-game series, and went on to face the Thunder. At the start of game 5, the series was tied 2-2 and the Clippers looked to take a demanding lead in the series when they were up by 13 points with 3:30 left in the game. The Thunder closed the game with a fascinating 17-3 run, and finished the series with a game 6 win in Los Angeles.
Entering the next season, there were nothing but positive expectations for the Clippers, and NBA fans and analysts alike relayed that “This is their year”, or “They will get it together”. Once again, at the end of the 2014-2015 season, the Clippers finished 3rd in the Western Conference with 56 wins and had a first-round matchup with the defending NBA champions San Antonio Spurs. The series went to a full 7 games, and the Clippers took the series after a hobbling and injured Chris Paul hit a game winning shot with 2 seconds left on the clock. After that series, the narrative was that the heated rivalry between the Clippers and Warriors would meet in the Conference Finals and the two would duel to claim the West. But first, they would have to get through the Houston Rockets. The Clippers took a 3-1 series lead and at one point led game 6 87-68; it seemed that they were well on their way to reach their first Conference Final in franchise history. The Rockets outscored the Clippers 51-20 to win the game and later took game 7 at home, advancing to the next round.
The Clippers at this point were the NBA’s joke, the team that was destined to choke. They play tremendous basketball in the regular season, but did not show up when the games mattered most. They reached the 2015-2016 playoffs as the West’s 3rd seed, and took a quick 2-0 series lead against the Portland Trailblazers, dominating the first 2 games. Heading into game 4 with a 2-1 series lead, the game was close late in the second quarter when Chris Paul attempted a steal, breaking his finger which ended his playoff run. Blake Griffin later exited the game due to injury, and his playoff run was also sidelined. Portland took the series 4-2, and the Los Angeles Clippers were out early exits in the postseason once again.
With this storied history and many failed expectations, the 16-17 season may be the Clippers’ last chance. With the draft of Blake Griffin, trade for Chris Paul, and how desperate the Clippers were to keep Deandre Jordan just showed how they believed in the system and personnel to lead the franchise to the promised land. At the end of this season, both Paul and Griffin are able to become unrestricted free agents, and they may look for a championship elsewhere if this season does not include a deep playoff run. Possibly the most balanced team in the NBA on paper has failed to impress year after year, and the players and city of Los Angeles may not be able to take it any longer. Many believe that this is the team that is able to knock off the historic Warriors, because of the potential this Clippers team has. If this potential is not fulfilled and ends in yet another disappointing season, a new chapter will arise: The collapse of the Los Angeles Clippers.
Written by: Macinn Iwahiro