Column: Clippers are one win from shaking curse, not that they’d know it
One more win and the Clippers will make history. One more win and they will reach their first conference final.
The Clippers lead the Denver Nuggets, three games to one. Game 5 is on Friday.
A seven-game series at this juncture should feel as if it’s over. No team has come back from multiple 3-1 deficits in a single postseason, and the Nuggets already did that in the previous round against Utah.
But these are the Clippers.
They’re taking on more than the Nuggets. They also have to contend with their own wretched history.
The Clippers beat the Denver Nuggets 96-85 on Wednesday to take a commanding 3-1 series lead.
The last time they scaled these heights, it set up the most horrifying of falls.
How could anyone forget?
Before there was Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, there was Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.
The “Lob City” Clippers were at the very point at which the Clippers are now, with a 3-1 lead over the Houston Rockets in the 2015 Western Conference semifinals.
They were dominated in Game 5.
They blew a 19-point lead to lose Game 6.
They didn’t show up for Game 7.
Another unfortunate chapter was added to the legend of the Clippers Curse.
Once again, the Clippers appear to be a victory away from a conference final showdown with the league’s signature team. Last time, it was the Golden State Warriors. This time, it’s the Lakers.
Leonard wouldn’t venture anywhere near the subject.
“We have a lot of work to do still,” Leonard said. “The Denver team does not quit. They got a good group over there, a good coach. We’re still fighting.”
Asked how players reacted to moving to within a win of an unprecedented achievement for the franchise, coach Doc Rivers replied, “Nothing.”
The Clippers set tone by holding the Denver Nuggets’ vaunted offense to 12 points in first quarter in Game 4.
Rivers explained, “That’s not our goal. I don’t even think no one cares, to be honest. It was a zero reaction. We haven’t done anything yet.”
This could be a situation in which the Clippers benefit from playing in the Orlando, Fla., bubble.
In a pre-pandemic world, Game 5 would be at Staples Center. If the players weren’t concerned about overcoming decades of anguish, the crowd would have made them concerned.
Then again, these Clippers are different than any of the franchise’s previous teams.
They have a greater margin for error.
No team can have as much go wrong and still emerge with a victory. Their 96-85 victory in Game 4 demonstrated that.
The Clippers didn’t shoot well. Paul George was in foul trouble and scored only 10 points.
They had six players score in double figures. They had only nine turnovers. And Leonard was once again dominant, with 30 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists.
But they were most encouraged by their defense.
“It was just great intensity,” Rivers said. “I just thought we were competitive. We competed. We played hard.”
They held the Nuggets to 12 points in the opening quarter.
“First quarter was amazing,” George said.
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When the Nuggets reduced their deficit to a single point in the third quarter, the Clippers responded by rebuilding a double-digit advantage.
“Even when they made their runs,” George said, “the fourth quarter I thought we rallied again and got stops when we needed, put the game away.”
The Clippers also had to be encouraged by how they contained Jamal Murray for a second consecutive game.
Murray was limited to 18 points on six-for-15 shooting. He scored only 14 points in Game 3, in which he shot five for 17 from the field.
“With this team, we’ve got so many defenders, so many guys that like to defend,” George said. “We’ve been taking that challenge to just pressure him up, stay on his body and just take him out of the game.”
A similar challenge awaits them in the next round, whether it’s in LeBron James of the Lakers or James Harden of the Rockets.
What has to be scary for their opponents is that the Clippers are still figuring out who they are.
“We are still learning each other,” Leonard said. “It’s a different team, you know, especially with me and PG. And even the guys that have been here, it’s a different style of play, different voices that you’re hearing, so we’re trying to come together. I don’t know where we are, but I know that we just want to keep getting better.”
They have a chance to be better than any Clippers team before them. One more win and they can forever change what their franchise represents.
Hernández reported from Los Angeles.
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