Column: The 37-year reign of the Clippers Curse is on course for the NBA Finals
Kawhi Leonard drives the baseline for a vicious two-handed slam and the building fills with chants of “M-V-P, M-V-P!”
Marcus Morris Sr. nails one, two, three, four, five, six, seven three-pointers — seven! — and fans are pounding their Thunderstix into plastic pulp.
Luke Kennard makes three straight shots and suddenly heard is a dirge of “Luuuuke.”
You read that right. Luke Kennard. Three straight shots. Somebody saying his name.
It was that crazy. It was that perfect. For once the Clippers were not cursed, they were blessed, playing their best game of the season on their most important day of the season Sunday in a game that was uproariously loud and eminently lovable.
Kawhi Leonard was an assist shy of a triple-double, Paul George had 22 points and 10 assists and Clippers role players were big in series’ first home win.
In the same arena where three days earlier the Lakers collapsed, the Clippers flew, walloping the Dallas Mavericks 126-111 in the deciding Game 7 of their first-round playoff series in front of 7,342 at Staples Center.
You sure you’re ready for this, L.A.?
There’s one local team left in the NBA playoffs, and it’s the team in black, not purple. Staples Center will continue to host playoff games, but they will be inhabited by Chuck the Condor, not Lawrence Tanter.
This is the first time in 15 years that the Clippers have lasted longer than the Lakers in a postseason that contained both teams. The Clippers not only have the town to themselves now, but a bit of NBA history after becoming only the fifth team to win a series after losing the first two games at home.
Said Kennard: “This was a big-time win.”
Said Reggie Jackson: “We’re still chasing what we’re chasing.”
What they’re chasing, first and foremost, is that Clippers Curse, which is epitomized in the franchise’s inability to advance past the playoffs’ second round once in the team’s 37-year Los Angeles history.
To clear that defining hurdle, they now must play the team with the league’s best record, the Utah Jazz, beginning Tuesday in Salt Lake City.
History is against the Clippers. Home-court advantage is against the Clippers. Likely more than 90% of Los Angeles basketball fans are against the Clippers.
You know what? Bet on them anyway. Bet on them big. It says here, this first-round fright was the series — and this Game 7 brilliance was the win — that will eventually catapult them into the NBA Finals.
“We are battle-tested now,” coach Tyronn Lue said. “We are going into where they have a tough fan base and it’s tough to play there but our guys are locked in.”
Locked into teamwork. Locked into toughness. As they showed Sunday, this is a deep and resilient group that does not blink. Remember, this is a team that, trailing two games to none after home losses in this series, fell behind by 19 points in the first quarter of Game 3 in Dallas and rebounded to win four of the next five games.
Video highlights from the Los Angeles Clippers’ Game 7 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on June 6, 2021, at Staples Center.
“We … were ready to almost get swept,” Nicolas Batum said. “And we find something in us like resiliency and some toughness like, ‘OK, we can’t go down like that.’”
This is also a team that was chasing the ghosts from last season’s Game 7 defeat to the Denver Nuggets in a second-round series that once again made the Clippers a national laughingstock. But this time, they did the haunting, whisking the Mavericks into the summer with a Game 7-record 20 three-pointers, perfect 24-for-24 foul shooting, 30 assists on 41 baskets, and seven players in double figures.
“We show who we are,” Batum said.
Their attack began with a Leonard floater, his first two of 28 points, their leader immediately picking up from where he left the Mavericks in ruins with 45 points in Game 6.
Their attack ended four quarters later with three-point daggers from Jackson and Morris resulting in separate joyous celebrations. Jackson danced down the court with a huge grin. Morris held his shooting pose for what felt like an entire minute.
“We wanted this moment,” Lue said.
They officially seized that moment midway through the third quarter. Trailing 81-76, they roared back with a 24-4 run to end the quarter and essentially win the game.
Morris three. Leonard dunk. Morris three. Morris three. And so on. They complemented the offense with a defense that held Luka Doncic, who scored 46, to six points in the quarter with three misses on his three long-range shots.
“Game 7 is the toughest game,” Doncic said afterward.
The Clippers were the tougher team, and they might have started a run that Clipper fans have been waiting for since Leonard and George joined the team two summers ago.
“We’ll continue to grind,” Morris said. “We’re just getting started.”
It was also a moment that Laker fans have been dreading, as they must now watch their hated neighbors steal their usual summer spotlight.
Markieff Morris watched Sunday’s game from a baseline seat, even giving his twin brother Marcus tips at halftime.
LeBron James might not have been watching at all, as, during the furious first quarter, he audaciously tweeted a commercial for his new movie.
To further insult the Lakers, if this second round is extended, Game 6 would be at Staples Center on June 18, three days after all local pandemic restrictions are lifted. This means the Clippers would be the first Los Angeles basketball team to play in front of a full house in more than a year.
If nothing else, it will be great to see the organization trash all those cardboard cutout fans that the Lakers never used and that have looked so silly during these playoffs.
Two weeks ago, the Clippers were as stiff as some of those spectators. Today they’re alive, dancing, posing, celebrating, the last L.A. team standing.
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