In the closing seconds of a Game 2 loss to Dallas, amid the sullen faces on the Los Angeles sidelines you could almost see the ghostly visages of Clippers past. Of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan Adrian Dantley Hoodie , the core of Lob City, a freewheeling, rim-running team that won the franchises first two division titles and averaged 54.6 wins per season between 2013 and 2017, but they had just two postseason series victories to show for it. Of Elton Brand, Corey Maggette and Sam Cassell, Clippers stars of the early aughts whose seasons routinely ended before the playoffs. Of Terry Cummings, Michael Cage and Danny Manning, leaders of 1980s L.A. teams that went an entire decade without making a postseason appearance.Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesAs big market franchises go, few, if any, have the history of futility of the Clippers, an organization that in its 51st year of existence has never won so much as a conference title, much less a championship. And as the Clippers, with their All-NBA talent and $138 million payroll, stumbled into an 02 first-round series hole to the Mavericks, it appeared the litany of disappointing finishes was going to grow even longer. Only it didnt. The Clippers rallied, winning two in Dallas to even the series. In Game 6, Kawhi Leonard outdueled Luka Dončić to stave off elimination. In Game 7 it was Leonard again, this time with a 28-point, 10-rebound, nine-assist gem, getting the better of Dončić to close out a stunning comeback. As the NBA formally enters the second round of the postseason, perhaps the most intriguing question is: Can this be the Clippers year? L.A. came into the postseason with lofty expectations. Leonard had entered the regular season as an MVP candidateand when he was on the floor , he looked the part. Paul George is an established All-Star. Marcus Morris, rewarded with a four-year, $64 million contract last offseason, has proven to be a reliable third option. The supporting cast, including midseason acquisition Rajon Rondo, is strong. But this was also a team that tanked its season finale, losing to a Thunder team that looked impervious to even the most insistent of tankers in a far-from-confidence-inspiring move made to essentially avoid the Lakers in the second round. And the scars from last season, when the Clippers blew a 31 series lead to Denver in the conference semifinals, remained. As Leonard acknowledged before the Mavericks series, the key to the teams postseason success was between the ears.Arguments for the Clippers being successful going forward begin with Leonard, who in a nonLeBron James universe could make an argument to be called the most dominant playoff performer of his generation https://www.utahfanstoreonline.com/John_Stockton_T_shirt-10 . It was Leonard, in 2014, who powered the Spurs to a 41 title-clinching win over the Heat, earning Finals MVP. Five years later, in Toronto, Leonard was knocking down a memorable three-pointer to knock out the 76ers in the conference semis, outdueling league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo in the conference finals, and leading the Raptors past the Warriorsin the Finals, before picking up another Bill Russell trophy along the way. Leonards physical gifts are well documented, beginning with his supersized hands, his sturdy build and a jump shot the 67, 225-pound forward has spent years refining. His mental skills include an ability to forget. Some players see experience as an advantage in the postseason. Leonard isnt one of them. I dont know how other players think or people think, but just for me, its about the situation thats in front of you, Leonard says. Just because you played great in whatever, nine Game 7s, doesnt mean you play great in the 10th]. Its all about the moment.Sometimes when youre overconfident you play bad, and sometimes when youre down on yourself, you play good. But like I said, for me, its about focusing on that moment, having fun and playing hard. That it. Its a game of basketball.There are other reasons. There is a potent offense and a stingy defense . There is George, who after an uneven first year in L https://www.utahfanstoreonline.com/Derrick_Favors_Face_Mask-68 .A. pieced together one of the best seasons of his career in his second. There is Tyronn Lueelevated to head coach after the Clippers severed ties with Doc Rivers last summerwhose tactical decisions against the Mavericks were significant in L.A.s comeback. The main argument against the Clippers success is simple: Its the Clippers. No, this L.A. team cant be held accountable for Mike Dunleavys occasionally head-scratching coaching decisions 15 years ago, for Maggettes inefficient shooting, for Paul and Griffins injury issues or for the 2015 team coughing up a 31 lead in a second-round loss to the Rockets. But they can be tied to last seasons failures. That team shrunk in the moment against Denver, and the core of that unit remains. And as often as the Clippers dismiss last seasons results , the shadow of that failure lingers.Griffin and the Clippers knocked off the Warriors in Round 1 in 2014, but they predictably flopped in their next series, against the Thunder.John W. McDonough/Sports IllustratedAnd it will continue to. L.A.s series-saving comeback against Dallas was a high-water moment, but it will be quickly forgotten if the Clippers fizzle in the second round. And against Utah, L.A. is facing a more formidable opponent. If the Mavericks were the Luka Dončić Show, the top-seeded Jazz are Donovan Mitchell & Friends. Mitchell is the linchpin, but he is flanked by the NBAs most prolific three-point shooting attack, the leagues reigning Sixth Man winner and its runner-up , not to mention the NBAs best interior defender Utah Jazz Custom Hoodie . Says Lue, We know weve got to do a better job this series than we did last series of taking away the three-point shot Rudy Gobert Hoodie , making those guys put the ball on the floor, and then having our back line ready to help.
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