It’s been more than 50 years now since the Los Angeles Clippers franchise was founded, and it remains the most futile franchise in NBA history, at least for now.
Founded in 1970 as the Buffalo Braves, the Clippers are now in their 51st season in the NBA and are one of 11 franchises never to have won an NBA title. Of those 11, six have never reached the NBA Finals. And of those six, three have never even gotten as far as the conference finals. And, yes, the Clippers are one of those three franchises.
Over the course of 51 seasons in Buffalo (1970-78), San Diego (1978-84), and LA (1984-present), the Braves/Clippers have reached the postseason 16 times. Their longest streak of making the postseason was a six-season run from 2011-12 to 2016-17, while their longest streak without reaching the playoffs was a 15-season stretch from 1976-77 to 1990-91.
In those 16 postseason appearances, the team has been to the conference semifinals on nine occasions. So exactly how close have the Clippers come to reaching the conference finals? Let’s take a quick look.
The Buffalo Braves reached the Eastern Conference semifinals in three consecutive years
While the Clippers franchise was still playing in the East as the Braves, the team reached the Eastern Conference semifinals in three consecutive seasons.
In 1973-74, second-year star Bob McAdoo led the NBA in scoring, averaging 30.6 points per game, and led the Braves to a 42-40 record, a third-place finish in the Atlantic Division, and the fourth and final seed in the Eastern Conference playoff bracket. So even though they lost in six games to the eventual champion Boston Celtics in the first round, this is still considered a conference semifinals appearance as only four teams from each conference made the postseason back then.
The following season, McAdoo was named NBA MVP and led the Braves to a 49-33 record. The postseason expanded to 10 teams that year, but as Buffalo was the No. 3 seed in the East, they avoided the 4 vs. 5 series in the first round and matched up with the second-seeded Washington Bullets in the conference semifinals. They came as close as you can get to the conference finals without actually getting there as they lost a tough series in seven games.
In 1976, Buffalo was unable to avoid that 4 vs. 5 series, but disposed of the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round before being knocked out of the conference semifinals in six games by the Celtics, who went on to win their second title in three years.
The Los Angeles Clippers have reached the Western Conference semis on six occasions
The Clippers never reached the Western Conference semifinals (or the postseason at all) during their six-season stay in San Diego, and didn’t do so in LA until 2006 behind strong seasons from Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, and Sam Cassell. After defeating the Denver Nuggets in the first round in five games, the Clippers reached a seventh game in the conference semis but lost to the Phoenix Suns.
The Chris Paul-Blake Griffin version of the Clippers reached the Western Conference semifinals on three occasions. In 2012, after besting the Memphis Grizzlies in seven games in the first round, they were swept in the semis by the San Antonio Spurs.
In 2014, after defeating the Golden State Warriors in seven games in the first round (still the Dubs’ last defeat in the Western Conference playoffs), the Clips lost in six games to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The following season, LA beat the Spurs in seven games in the opening round but then lost in seven in the conference semifinals to the Houston Rockets.
The Clippers’ fifth appearance in the Western Conference semis came in the Orlando bubble in 2020. After defeating the Dallas Mavericks in the opening round in six games, LA held a 3-1 series lead on the Nuggets in the second round but then lost three straight.
LA is currently battling the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference semis with the hope of finally ending the five-plus-decade drought.
The Clippers are one of just three NBA franchises to have never appeared in the conference finals
As previously mentioned, the LA Clippers are one of just three current NBA teams to have never reached the conference finals, the other two being the Charlotte Hornets and the New Orleans Pelicans.
The Hornets have made four appearances in the Eastern Conference semifinals, all four made by the original version of the franchise. Three of the four series losses were in five games, while the closest they came to the conference finals came in 2001 when they lost to the Milwaukee Bucks in seven games.
As for the Pelicans, they’ve appeared in the Western Conference semifinals on two occasions. The first was in 2008 when they were still known as the Hornets (the New Orleans Hornets records and stats belong to the Pelicans). After defeating the Mavericks in five games in the first round, they lost to the Spurs in seven in the semis. In 2018, Anthony Davis led the Pelicans to a four-game sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round before being taken out in the semis by the Warriors.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference