Turner Sports NBA announcer Kevin Harlan covered five of the seven games between the Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the NBA playoffs – including Game 7 – and he was amazed by the Clippers’ mental fortitude. With each passing game, Doc Rivers’ club grew exponentially, and when it was all said and done – when the Clippers beat the Spurs by a point in the final game of the series – there was almost a sense of disbelief in the Clippers’ locker room.
“They put (beating the Spurs) on a different wavelength, a different chapter in their own personal basketball book,” Harlan said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney.
After knocking off the defending champs, the Clippers advanced to the Western Conference semifinals, where they split the first two games in Houston – despite playing without their leader, Chris Paul. Then they went up 3-1 in the series, with a berth in the conference finals seeming to be a matter of when, not if.
Well, then Games 5, 6 and 7 happened. The Clippers lost all three, unable to hold a 19-point second-half lead in Game 6 and trailing by 20 points early in the fourth quarter of Game 7.
What the heck happened?
“There was a combination of a lot of things,” Harlan said. “I think they got easily distracted by the hack-a-Jordan stuff and then it was hack-a-Howard and back and forth we went. I think it took them out of that good flow, that good feeling they got from San Antonio, and they kind of lost their way. When you let a team that was a No. 2 seed in the West in Houston – a division winner in a very difficult Southwest division, I might add – you give them a little bit of an opening, they kind of found themselves. They got their footing. It was almost too easy against Dallas in their five-game first-round series. The Rockets then began to show some growth and some wherewithal. They reached deeper than probably they had the entire season as a team, and they just got hot at the right time.”
Indeed, Houston made 25 three-pointers in the final two games of the series, advancing to the franchise’s first conference finals since 1997.
“I’m stunned that we’re sitting here talking about the Clippers not going because I thought it was a shoe-in they would play against Golden State,” Harlan said. “I’m just amazed at the ebb and flow of these teams and what they’ve done. But the Clippers in particular, this will be a good book someday to talk about what they did in the first round and what they did not do in the second round.”
But in the end, who gets the blame? Doc Rivers? Blake Griffin? Chris Paul? Which doorstep gets the lion’s share?
“I think it’s at everybody’s doorstep,” Harlan said. “I think it goes to a cold-shooting Blake Griffin, who in the last game did not even look like he was in Game 1. If you saw him in that series (against San Antonio), if you saw him in the early part of this series, he was a confident, ball-handling point forward carrying the team on his back. He wanted more. He just could not absorb more attention and more on his plate. He wanted it – and he was answering. His confidence was sky-high. As every game (went on), you could see his confidence eroding. Why? I do not know.
“Paul, I don’t know how much I (blame him),” Harlan continued. “But because he has been crowned the best player on that team, obviously some goes there. DeAndre Jordan didn’t score like he (had been). Redick didn’t get as hot. Really, you can go down the list.”
Even to the end of the bench.
“Ultimately, collectively, if you want to put broad brushes on this, the bench was revealed again as being weak and not very deep,” Harlan said. “They got (flashes) from Austin Rivers, (but) it was not consistent and it didn’t last. They just had fewer answers per game off the bench than they had against the Spurs or in the first four games of the series against the Rockets. So like with anything in life, and especially in sports, it’s never just one thing. Everybody had their hand in the pot on this one for the Clippers. It’s too bad. These are proud people, very good players, outstanding coaches. But for whatever reason, the right levers weren’t pulled and the right buttons weren’t pushed and the best players did not come to the fore when they needed to – and they didn’t rescue that team.”