The Los Angeles Clippers of the mid-2010s are one of the great “what-if” tales in modern NBA history. A star-studded roster led by Blake Griffin and Chris Paul tied for the third-best record in the league from 2011–17, racking up a gaudy 313–163 mark. But while the Golden State Warriors won two titles in that time frame, the San Antonio Spurs captured one, and the Oklahoma City Thunder made an NBA Finals appearance, things didn’t fall into place for the Clippers.
Paul was in LA for six seasons. The Lob City Clippers won at least 50 games five straight times and were 40–26 in the lockout-shortened 2011–12 campaign. That’s a 50-win pace (49.7 rounds up, after all) for an 82-game schedule. But LA won three playoff series during that span and never even got to the conference finals. Griffin recently offered some speculation why that group fell short.
Injuries and bad luck were a constant grind for the Clippers
It was always something — or someone — going wrong for the Clippers for two seasons under coach Vinny Del Negro and four with Doc Rivers on the bench.
Paul struggled with his health throughout his stint in LA. He appeared in 82 games in 2014–15 but in the other five campaigns missed 67 contests. After missing his first year with a fractured kneecap, the younger Blake Griffin was a machine, playing in 310 of 312 games through his first four seasons.
But he missed 15 in 2014–15, 47 the following season, and 21 more in 2016–17. As his health problems compounded, Griffin’s effectiveness dwindled.
The development of center DeAndre Jordan into an All-NBA big man bolstered the team. Jamal Crawford won two Sixth Man of the Year awards during LA’s stretch as a contender. They later added J.J. Redick and his 3-point shooting wizardry.
The 2015 NBA Playoffs continue to haunt Griffin, something he shared during a recent podcast appearance.
Blake Griffin and the Clippers couldn’t close the deal in 2015
The Western Conference was top-heavy in 2014–15. Five teams won at least 55 games, including Clippers at 56–26. Because the Portland Trail Blazers got the fourth seed with only 51 wins due to winning the Northwest Division, LA opened the playoffs against the 55-win San Antonio Spurs.
In Game 7, Blake Griffin finished with a triple-double (24 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists), and Paul’s jumper with a second to go gave LA a 111–109 win.
But against the Houston Rockets in the second round, the season unraveled. The teams split the first two games in Houston before LA got back-to-back blowouts in Games 3 and 4 to take a 3–1 lead. The Clippers wouldn’t win again.
On the Old Man and the Three podcast with Redick, Griffin didn’t think it was personalities that caused the collapse:
“(2015) was just a complete mental breakdown. I don’t think pettiness is why we lost in the playoffs, especially not that year. Or the year before when we lost to Oklahoma City. Pettiness didn’t lose those seasons for us.”
Redick and Griffin agreed that LA’s title window was open the widest during those two years. Griffin, who punched a team employee in 2016, downplayed the role of chemistry in their demise.
“I’ve said this to people when they always ask me about the Clippers,” he said. “I am in the camp where it wasn’t quite as bad as people try to make it out to be … maybe toward the end, maybe like when some other things happened. That’s not the reason we didn’t win a championship. Our two chances to win a championship were those two years. After that, the Warriors and LeBron, they were just going back and forth, and that was crazy.”
Redick remembered to recognize the elephant in the room. The 2014 playoff run included the Donald Sterling controversy as the playoffs began.
Blake Griffin chasing a championship in Brooklyn
Blake Griffin’s stint with the Clippers ended with a January 2018 trade to the Detroit Pistons. That was months after Paul went to the Rockets. Griffin was bought out by Detroit in March 2021 and joined the Brooklyn Nets.
Paul made his first NBA Finals appearance in July with the Phoenix Suns. Redick remains unsigned after finishing last season with the Dallas Mavericks.
Winning a championship requires talent, timing, and some luck. While the LA Clippers had plenty of the first element, they always fell short in the other two.