It’s hard to fathom how a talented, experienced team like the Los Angeles Clippers keeps finding ways to lose games against their alleged title rivals time after time despite holding a fourth quarter lead, as the Oklahoma City Thunder join the list of teams which includes the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets that enjoyed a good, old fashioned Clippers choke job.
We’ve seen it happen in the playoffs in recent years against the Rockets (dropping a 3-1 lead and losing 4-3 in the conference semifinals) and against the Thunder a year before (Chris Paul meltdown peppered with the refs handing Oklahoma City a crucial game). This regular season, in which the Clippers are only 16-13 so far, it’s happened time and time again against the teams they’re supposed to go head to head with in the playoffs. They’ve now lost twice to the Rockets, once to the Warriors, once to the Spurs and once to the Thunder. Each time it seems these losses put them in some sort of tailspin they struggle to get out of, currently on a three-game losing streak. Good thing their rough stretch (Spurs-Rockets-Thunder in a row) ends with a game against the piece-of-cake game in the West, the derby against the Los Angeles Lakers.
No set of words tells the story of the Clippers right now better than this: Only five of the Clippers’ 16 wins have come against teams currently over .500. They are 0-4 against the three teams ahead of them in the Western Conference, losing twice to Golden State and once each to San Antonio and Oklahoma City. Doc Rivers brought in experience in the form of Paul Pierce to deal with this issue. Heck, Paul is in this league for a decade. Griffin has been here for more than five years. Their best players aren’t rookies anymore, and have seen big games in the regular season and the playoffs. But the mental block doesn’t disappear.
The great teams are able to bring it every night, no matter who they are playing against. That’s why the Spurs, Warriors, those types of teams have the records they do. We have had different lineups every night and different guys in and out, but that is part of fielding a great team.
The Clippers keep changing, trying to find the right formula that will give them the kind of run they’re used to having by now in seasons past. But after an offseason which was all about victory, from the additions of Pierce, Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith, to the re-signing of DeAndre Jordan, we’re back to where we’ve always been: A flashy team that’s fun to watch when they’re good, but puzzling to understand and figure out as they collapse when the pressure is a little bit more than most days. Maybe this makes them better for the playoffs. However, that’s wishful thinking, and being realistic suggests the same problems simply won’t go away.