I mean wow.
This is probably the most abject failure in a sports franchise’s history.
A team with so much talent, so much expectation, didn’t come up short. They were humiliated.
The LA Clippers, touted by many to be the Western Conference, and even NBA, champion, were blown out for the second straight game by the Denver Nuggets, who with their 104-89 victory tonight book their first trip to the Western Conference Finals since 2009, where they will meet the L.A. Lakers, who gentlemanly swept the Houston Rockets in five games in their series. The Nuggets, who were down 3-1 to the Clippers, won three in a row to eliminate the heavily-favored Clips, which is considered by many to be the most shocking upset of these weird 2020 playoffs.
However, is it really?
The Nuggets seemed to be the better team when it mattered the most, and they had already come back from a 3-1 deficit to the Utah Jazz in the first round, making history with this turnaround as the first team to come back twice from a 3-1 series deficit in the same playoffs.
But what does this result really say about each team and how they’ll go from here?
Today, we’re dissecting five things that could be learned from this series for both teams and their futures.
1. The Clippers were the most overrated team in the league this season
While Kawhi Leonard is certainly a superstar, he wasn’t the decisive figure that so many analysts, including Max Kellerman and Skip Bayless, thought he would be. While there is talent on this Clippers team, some were talking about them with the confidence that people had with the Warriors superteam once they added Kevin Durant. This team, simply put, was arrogant and big-mouthed, and losing to Denver was, for lack of better terms, a choke job. They had the most talented team in franchise history, and they still couldn’t get past the second round. They became the most laughed at and most hated team in the league in one season; afterwards, several NBA stars, including almost the entire Portland Trail Blazers roster, was ridiculing them for what was a disastrous end to a season with high hopes. Even in the regular season, cracks started to show: losses to teams essentially bottom of the standings like the Atlanta Hawks and Minnesota Timberwolves are not expected of a team with such championship aspirations. The Milwaukee Bucks, who lost in five games to the Miami Heat at the same stage of the playoffs but were expected to contend along with the Clippers, not only beat them twice, but destroyed them at Fiserv Forum in December. All the Clippers tried to do was to match the Lakers and build their roster to beat them, but they neglected every other team, especially the Nuggets. It could be said that they would’ve lost in the first round to the Dallas Mavericks if Kristaps Porzingis didn’t get ejected in Game 1 and hurt later in the series. The Clippers expected to walk through the first two rounds of the playoffs, and learned a very harsh lesson.
2. Kawhi Leonard should not be put in the same breath as LeBron James
Again, Kawhi Leonard is a sensational player, and any team would be lucky to have him. But people truly expected way too much of him after what was one excellent postseason, which ended in a championship against a depleted Warriors team missing Kevin Durant and, in some games, Klay Thompson. Many were saying that just because of the 2019 playoffs, Kawhi was on the same level as LeBron James, who is a top-three MVP candidate and in the conference finals, where Leonard and his team aren’t. He had to be the best player on the floor to beat Denver, and he wasn’t. He wasn’t even the second best. Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray outplayed him in every way. The so-called “best player in the world” shouldn’t be doing that. If we’re basing it off the entire season, playoffs being taken into account, James is by far ahead of the pack in terms of who’s on top in the NBA, and Kawhi Leonard’s chase for the “best player” crown in L.A. and the entire league has come to an abrupt halt.
3. The Thunder won the Paul George trade, and it wasn’t even close
When Paul George was traded to the Clippers for Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and five first-round draft picks, Clippers fans didn’t seem to care much, because they finally had their superstar duo again after the “Lob City” days with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul came to an end during the 2017-18 season. It didn’t work out well, though, as George, just like Leonard, couldn’t get it done in the playoffs. However, unlike Leonard, George played so much worse. He was even more inconsistent than Kawhi and had several horrible games, resulting in the return of “Playoff P” and the new alter-ego of “Pandemic P”. Meanwhile, the Thunder have five first-round picks to work with, and an upcoming superstar in Gilgeous-Alexander. They had an amazing season, destroying all low expectations and reaching the playoffs, where they lost to, but almost beat, the Houston Rockets in seven games. The Thunder are on the way up. All they had to give up was one of the most inconsistent playoff performers ever.
4. If it was ever up for debate, the Lakers officially rule L.A.
All the talk this NBA season was about the Lakers and the Clippers, and which team was better. Now, that talk is over. The Lakers had the better duo, better chemistry, and most importantly, closed out games better. They were able to eliminate an extremely good Houston Rockets team in five games, while the Clippers barely made it out of the first round against Dallas. LeBron and Anthony Davis were waiting for Kawhi and Paul George, but now they don’t have to. And it’s not necessarily that the Lakers won more games against the Clips to claim the title; the Clippers essentially handed the title of “Kings of L.A.” to the purple and gold. The Clips had some bragging rights, having made the playoffs while the Lakers were awful for a few years, but now, the narrative has changed. It’s the Lakers’ time to shine, and the Clippers are yet again thrust into the Lakers’ shadows.
5. The Denver Nuggets are for real
Although most of the talk has been about the Clippers, we can’t ignore how good the Denver Nuggets have been. The resilience and team spirit that they have is unmatched. They refuse to lose. They’re the “dogs” that everyone thought the Clippers were. They were the better team when push came to shove. Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray put the league on notice yet again. The Nuggets bench outplayed what was supposed to be the best bench in the NBA. Michael Malone’s rise to the head coaching job of one of the NBA’s best teams paid off. They turned around 3-1 deficits twice. The Nuggets weren’t widely viewed as a contender, but now, they’ve gained even more respect. They put the loud-mouthed Clippers in their place, and with future star Michael Porter Jr. playing for them, it’s not hard to see the Comeback Kings from Colorado win a championship in the very near future. The Western Conference Finals will be a series to watch.