An X has been marked next to the Clippers in the NBA standings, indicating that they have secured a spot in the playoffs and they have done so while playing in the uber-competitive Western Conference.
The Clippers earned their place in the postseason by defeating the Minnesota Timberwolves 122-111 Tuesday night at the Target Center, helping the Clippers clinch a playoff berth for the seventh time in the last eight seasons.
After they had won their NBA-best sixth consecutive game, the Clippers celebrated in their locker room, champagne being sprayed by Danilo Gallinari and Lou Williams, two of the leaders of the team along with Patrick Beverley, who got involved in the party despite having left the game in the third quarter with a right hip pointer.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers and his staff joined in the fun times, all of them right in the middle of all the yelling and screaming.
“Cause Doc gave me a bottle of champagne,” Gallinari, who had 25 points and 10 rebounds, said when asked why he smelled like champagne. “And being from Italy, I’m very good on how to handle those bottles. So he knew I was going to be good at handling those bottles and I just poured champagne all over the locker room, all over my teammates. It feels amazing, especially the last sip I was able to chug it down a little bit.”
At the start of the 2018-19 season, few expected the Clippers to be a participant in the playoffs.
Rivers said the naysayers said the Clippers would win “33 games, 34. I think the high was 35.”
And then when they traded two of their starters in February, Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley, the assumption was that the “tank” was on and the Clippers were looking toward having a draft pick in June and having two maximum salary spots to sign a couple of free agents this summer.
But this group that Rivers has under his watch refused to buy into that narrative and instead has followed the lead of Beverley, Williams and Gallinari.
“We’ve got chips on our shoulders,” said Beverley, who said his hip was fine. “Everybody counted us out. Whoa! We’re going to the playoffs. That’s wild.”
The groove the 45-30 Clippers are in has landed them in fifth place in the West, just two games behind the fourth-place Houston Rockets (47-28) and the thirdplace Portland Trail Blazers (46-27).
With seven regular-season games left, the Clippers, who have won 11 of their last 12 games, still are playing for positioning and a possible home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Williams, who had 20 points against the Timberwolves, had his empty bottle of champagne in his locker. He had planned to drink something stronger after the game.
“We should be proud of ourselves. We put the work in,” Williams said. “We shouldn’t shy away from that. We put the work in, put together a hell of a February, a hell of a March and we did what we were supposed to. We clinched tonight so we should be proud of that… Yeah, I’m going to get me some tequila.”
Landry Shamet didn’t play because he’s still recovering from a left ankle impingement. Shamet, who is averaging 11.2 points a game and shooting 45.5% from the three-point arc while playing in 18 games for the Clippers, worked out during the team’s shoot-around, but the Clippers thought it was better to rest the 6-foot-5 guard. Garrett Temple, who started in place of Shamet, had 15 points and four rebounds in 32 minutes.