A week ago, the Los Angeles Clippers looked like bonafide title favorites. On the heels of their shocking, impressive first-round slaying of the defending champion San Antonio Spurs in seven games, they carried that momentum into a 3-1 series lead over the Houston Rockets, including a 128-95 dismantling in Game 4.
Today, the Clippers are done. The Rockets came back and crawled out of their hole, becoming just the ninth team to ever overcome such a deficit. Sizzling as their first unit was all season—it was probably the best in the league—their short bench inevitably did them in.
L.A. had the series all but won in Game 6, as they were up by 20 for much of the second half. But Houston’s super subs Corey Brewer and Josh Smith ran amok on them as Dwight Howard protected the rim, and a 40-15 fourth-quarter scoring edge for Houston turned the series.
The usual ghosts are certain to follow the Clippers this offseason. People will claim that Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, who have still never been to a conference finals, aren’t winners. DeAndre Jordan’s issues shooting free throws will be cited.
Make no mistake, though: This historical loss is a condemnation of Doc Rivers as a general manager. While Rivers is an excellent coach who gains the love and fire of his players like perhaps none other (and while he’s vastly overlooked as a tactician) his moonlighting duties as the roster’s transactional caretaker have been a problem for Lob City.
Rivers inherited all of his best players and has only managed to augment them with the likes of Glen Davis, Hedo Turkoglu, Lester Hudson, Spencer Hawes and, of course, his son Austin. All have had redemptive moments, but none of these pieces have given the Clips anything like consistent depth, and the wear on Paul, Griffin and Jordan has been more noticeable.
What can Rivers the GM do to help Rivers the coach this summer? Rivers doesn't have a lot of financial flexibility if he re-signs Jordan, a free agent, to the maximum contract he'll demand this summer, and finding bench help on the market will be a struggle. For better or worse, these are likely the same Clippers you'll be seeing for a while.
— John Wilmes