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The Clippers’ Demons Aren’t Theirs

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 06: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the Los Angeles Clippers dunks the ball against Kristaps Porzingis #6 of the Dallas Mavericks during the second half of Game Seven of the Western Conference first round series at Staples Center on June 6, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Clippers have, according to the Amalgamated Guild Of ESPN Headline Writers, “exorcised demons” by beating the Dallas Mavericks. What this tells us is that the AGOEHW doesn’t fully understand the Clipper ethos.

The Clippers aren’t the Clippers by getting behind in a series. They are the Clippers by going ahead in a series, and then vomiting up printer toner all over the place to make a game book resembling Guernica by way of Jackson Pollock. It’s not that they’ve never reached a conference final, or that they have lost 15 of 22 series in their history, or have needed to shame three cities to do so—lots of teams know how to lose—but that they have made themselves synonymous with coming from ahead to fail repeatedly.

Only this time they didn’t; in fact, confronted with becoming the first team ever to lose all four home games in a seven-game series, a level of performance art matched only thrice, all in baseball, they rose up and smote the mighty Doncic in Game 7 Sunday by the considerable margin of 15 points. Demons, indeed.

Historical demons are just dead man’s baggage in the end, history for which players rarely can be held responsible much beyond five years; in the case of the Clippers, only Patrick Beverly owns more than three years of this nonsense, and most of those have been working for Steve Ballmer’s company only through the pandemic year and this bastardized one. Frankly, the only person who can legitimately be blamed for this Clipper century is trainer Jasen Powell, and he’s somehow bamboozled both Donald Sterling and Steve Ballmer into thinking that he’s had nothing to do with this smoking historical ruin despite being on the payroll for all of it.

But again, the risible history of Clipper basketball is our issue. And weirdly, so is the rest of the remaining playoff field’s history as well. This is the most bankrupt pile of resumes in NBA/ABA postseason history, in that there are only seven championships in the 456 collected seasons of the eight teams, and of those seven, three belong to Julius Erving, who retired 34 years ago. None of the four Western Conference semi-finalists have ever earned a parade, and they’ve combined to lose 15 of 21 conference finals in two leagues. The Clippers are just the ones with the rep.

This brings us naturally to the question, “When does mockery turn from disgust, move past pity, and become an actual rooting interest?”

Nobody really mocks the Suns, even though they’ve strewn three loosely defined eras of achievement into long periods of meh, and their biggest moment remains Garfield Heard’s game-tying jumper in a game they eventually lost in three overtimes. Owner Bob Sarver is a loon who has finally found a reason not to be noticed, so there’s that, and Devin Booker’s worth delaying dinner to watch. Utah has made two Finals in the Jordan Era, so you know how that turned out. Denver’s fame has been largely based on an offense-first philosophy that goes back to Doug Moe and his “First team to 140 wins” style, but they’ve lost all three conference finals to the Lakers, who aren’t involved any longer, and their one ABA final died at the hands of the Doctor.

So if you don’t have a natural horse in the race here, don’t you lean in on the Clippers? Oh, you can do what you like in the East, where every team has won something for some members of some generation, all of them your grandfather’s, but the West is utterly devoid of shiny stuff in the foyer, so they are equal in the eyes of BasketballReference.com. So why not the Clippers? They’re the ones with the Old English “Kick Me” sign across the back of their warmups; they’re the ones who once were operated by the noted ethical smear Don Sterling; they’re the ones who used to just lose but now they’re known for winning until it’s time to lose horrifically. So can you ignore all that and decide that the Clippers are just one more team looking for a pedigree?

Well, probably not. The Clippers ARE their history even if their roster is largely guilty only for a year of it. History is our guide to pretending that we are reading a multi-chapter book that started in our childhoods and will go on when our kids are leaving the house for the last time. We fall for the illusion of continuity when the truth is that most seasons are just a series of individual accidents. Too many injuries, too many deadline-day deals, too many impatient franchise operators and short-attention-span fanbases show this clearly, but we still think one thing leads to another the same way we think there is a reason for every stupid thing that happens or that there is a guiding hand for us all rather than a planet running on its own inertia with life forms who deserve a home much closer to an unforgiving sun. Frankly, in this chaos, we NEED the Clippers’ history, if only to frame whatever happens to them now that they’ve cleared an actual hurdle.

So let’s have them get up 2-0 or 3-1 against the Jazz and then scare the hell out of all the gasbag genii who repeat the notion that they’ve finally “exorcised their demons.” Let’s make them own the history their forebears inflicted upon them, and then if they overcome that they really do have special powers. Which, of course, they don’t. They’re trying to deny the history, a logical position to take since most of it isn’t theirs, while we want to keep pinning it to them, which isn’t logical but makes for a better story if all this finally ends well, or even poorly.

Either that, or they finally do something about Jasen Powell. I mean, how many times does he get away with this stuff before someone catches on?