So how do you react after your nose is figuratively bloody?
What happens next usually says a lot about attitude, character and will. And we’re about to find out where the Clippers stand in terms of those attributes.
Because of the shortest off-season in NBA history – and because they exist in the same town with the champions and are thus often, if not daily reminded of what could have been – they haven’t yet escaped that bloated 3-1 streak lead against the Denver Nuggets in the semifinals of the Western Conference. The schedule maker not only applied the dagger, but also put a sadistic twist on it when the first games of the season were revealed earlier this week: Clippers at Lakers on December 22, when championship rings are presented (a banner will reportedly be unfolded later ). And, on the night of December 25, Clippers ate Nuggets.
Merry Christmas, indeed.
The memories will last until the Clippers do something about it in the playoffs. It may be to their advantage that their head coach is now Ty Lue, who last season had a clear view of both the possibilities and the obstacles as Doc Rivers’ second seat.
The Clippers’ lineup was a work in progress from start to finish, starting when Kawhi Leonard was limited and Paul George was unavailable in training camp in the fall of 2019 (which seems about five years ago). It continued through a season where Leonard never played in back-to-back games and the planned starting line-up was far too short. And, as was suspected over the season and detailed throughout a story by Jovan Buha in The Athletic this week, the idea of adding two stars and their specific needs to a group of stars and expecting it to fit perfectly turned out to be wishful thinking.
There was preferential treatment, concerns about team chemistry, and ultimately a mindset that talent would save them. That attitude burned the Clippers on fire against a team from Denver that may not have that much sheer talent but seemed to play a lot more purposefully, especially after trailing 3-1.
“I think I said that during the time we were down there (in the Orlando bubble), sometimes I think we just relied on how good we are on paper, and not really split up and really figure out what to do better, especially at the time, “said Clippers forward Marcus Morris this week.” For some of the (in) playoff time, 3-1 to three losses, I feel like we’re not paying attention. on) details. ”
At some point, they have to put last season’s fights in the past, but it’s going to be challenging for a while. George brought it up in an upcoming ‘All The Smoke’ podcast featuring former NBA players Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes, with what certainly seemed like a finger pointing in the direction of now-76ers coach Rivers: we never worked on adjustments throughout the process. We never worked on what to do differently. We just literally have the same (things) that happen over and over. It started to fool you, man, what’s going on? We talk to each other as the conversation is, it will be fine. The conversation should have been, “No, we have to change this, we have to change this.” ”
This was the same conversation in which George noted that his late start last season due to shoulder surgery made it difficult to get a rhythm, but added, “Doc tried to play me like a Ray Allen, or a JJ Redick, all pin-downs. I can do that, but it’s not my game. I need some flow. I need some pick and roll mixes. I need post ups. Just different accents. … That last season was generally just difficult. ”
Of course, during his Media Week session on Friday, George disputed the interpretation that he blamed Rivers: “The idea out there is that I don’t respect Doc and I blame Doc, which I don’t. In that situation I am just as guilty as anyone else. So, you know, let’s get that clear and don’t let it get out of hand and make it a story that isn’t a story. ”
Too late, especially since the full podcast won’t be out until next week.
But perhaps it will help to retain the memory of that Denver series, painful as it may be.
“We had chances of winning that Game 7,” Leonard said via Zoom on Friday. ‘So it’s only about this year for me and not skipping any steps.
“I am absolutely motivated. I want to win. … I want to come back after. ”
Lue’s team should not lack accountability. This is, remember, the man who, shortly after being promoted to head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers in January 2016, said to LeBron James, “Shut up. I got this. ”Those Cavs won a title (rallied from their own 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals).
Lue said he learned a valuable lesson when he broke into the NBA with Lakers in the early 2000s: “Always tell the truth, whether they like it or not,” he said this week. ‘They may not like it, but they respect it.
Guys may not always agree. They won’t always like what you have to say. But if you can be honest and tell them the truth, I think if they’re really with themselves, they can always look at me and say, “You know what, T, you were right.” And that’s all you can ask for. ”
After all, the first step to understanding how to get out of a mess is to be honest with yourself about how you got into it. Even if it takes a push to get there.
@Jim_Alexander on Twitter