Goodbye to the Clippers, Who Did What They Could

The Los Angeles Clippers were dominant right up until they weren't, and now they're out of the NBA Playoffs. It's less disappointing than it seems, honestly.

by Colin McGowan
May 19 2015, 12:13pm

Photo by Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Focusing on results is a sure way to depress yourself. In life, we do not, on balance, get to win. For most of us, living is a constant ritual of staving off—the rent or mortgage is only ever just barely doable, and sometimes less than that—while regularly taking an L on lower-level stuff. We do not get that job. We waste time. We alienate the people we want to like us. This is not so much tragic as it is familiar; growing up is the process of learning to do it slightly less, or less egregiously.

We lose habitually, and so develop an aptitude for it. We lose with grace, or at least don't crack our skulls on the metaphorical pavement in the process. We fail, hurt, steel ourselves, and vow to do better next time, knowing on some level that we will fuck up or be flattened by some out-of-nowhere cosmic flyswatter again soon. It's better than the alternative.

Read More: The Memphis Grizzlies And The Art Of Losing Meaningfully

For the fourth consecutive year, the Los Angeles Clippers have made an early playoff exit. This is a familiar story by now: a talented but fatally thin squad couldn't quite deliver on the promise they exhibited in January, or in the Clippers' case until three games ago; that team has gone home perplexed, feeling as if they could have accomplished more.

The sensation is more acute this season. The Clips had the Rockets very nearly beaten, whereas they were more or less steamrolled by the 2012 Spurs and 2013 Grizzlies, both of which were simply better; even their barn-burning six-game defeat at the hands of the 2014 Thunder was nip and tuck throughout. When the postmortem of your vanquishment contains the lament if only we could have figured out how to stop Corey Brewer, it all stings especially strongly.

The Clippers' demise doesn't speak to much other than their customary lack of depth. To claim that Chris Paul isn't built for the playoffs, or that Blake Griffin doesn't have the stomach for big games is to give a radically oversimplified, against-the-grain, and mostly wrong reading of what transpired. Paul and Griffin were both largely great; almost none of this is their fault. The problem: JJ Redick didn't shoot the way he usually does; Matt Barnes slumped; Jamal Crawford went cold; Glen Davis played exactly as well as he usually does and Austin Rivers played more often than he usually does. Most of all, the Houston bench transformed a Game 6 blowout into an improbable victory. Shit happens. It happened to the Clippers.

He's ignoring you, dude. He's ignoring you because you told Glen Davis to take 17-footers. — Photo by Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

This need not detract from a good season. There was a lot to like about the Clippers this year. In much the same way Griffin flourished when Paul was banged up in 2013-14, Paul put on a team-carrying masterclass while Griffin spent more than a month parked on the bench with a staph infection. In a league that mints new stars each year, established ones become like the sky or an ocean: magnificent, but so persistent and familiar that they cease to be awesome. (In Sportsworld, we appreciate our newest wonders best.) Watching Chris Paul will the Clippers to function by doing everything his teammates needed—passing, scoring, controlling tempo, keeping everyone organized, throwing himself onto opposing guards like a fire blanket—was like regaining and losing one's naivete all over again. The sky is so big and beautiful, we suddenly remembered.

Other treasures abounded. JJ Redick became the platonic ideal of JJ Redick, for awhile. DeAndre Jordan somehow upped his sledgehammering Big Ol' Pile of Meat game without refining it even a little bit. Griffin found a previously unseen gear in the playoffs. Doc Rivers led the league in glaringly untrue postgame quotes about how you guys know I don't like to complain, however... The seven-game rumble against the Spurs was an artistic achievement. It was a banner year, if not a triumphant one.

The difference between the Clippers and the rest of us—the working people that lose as often as we win—is that the Clippers have pretensions toward grand success. (Paul quoting a hilariously overcompetitive, downright imbecilic Will Ferrell character is instructive.) They have clearly defined, attainable-seeming goals of which they keep falling just short. This is why they agonize, and why they might be inclined to regard this season as a failure.

This is maybe the one thing you or I have over Chris Paul, whose ambition so dramatically blinkers and warps him: we understand, because we know we cannot win, that there is joy in striving, in seeing how far you can get before catastrophe inevitably visits. This renders us able to look favorably on our debacles and collapses, to be upset that work has gone undone, but still appreciate what has been achieved or created. This is the only way to be happy, when trophies—literal or otherwise—are far out of reach.

The Clippers' season croaked prematurely. It was sad and discouraging, if you're inclined to view it narrowly. But a strong preoccupation with results will make you feel that way. The Clippers were also extravagant, pugnacious, violent, streaky, dazzling, moody, and brave during their doomed title quest. That's much more than nothing. All in all, they had a fine year, and one that any of us would look back on with pride, and no small amount of delight.