The LA Clippers entered the playoffs with high aspirations toward competing for their first NBA title. However, the Clippers fell short in disappointing fashion in the Western Conference semifinals to the resurgent Denver Nuggets. There has been plenty of criticism tossed the team’s way in the brief time since, but nothing has garnered more chatter than star forward Paul George‘s puzzling comments about the Clippers’ expectations for this season.
Clippers’ devastating playoff collapse
The Clippers moved past the Dallas Mavericks in the first round in a matchup that went six games.
LA then guided their way comfortably to a 3-1 series lead over the Nuggets, but things progressively fell apart after that point. The Clippers dropped double-digit second-half leads in Games 5 and 6 that forced a win-or-go-home Game 7. All that saw the Nuggets garner tremendous confidence in their play beyond their opponent’s seemingly dysfunctional performance with uncharacteristic mistakes.
Denver looked like the battle-tested team that mentally utilized their previous 3-1 series comeback against the Utah Jazz. That alone played a huge factor in helping them navigate their way back from the same deficit. LA had no response for Nikola Jokic’s all-around play while Jamal Murray found his footing, especially in Game 7, with a game-high 40 points.
It all sent the Clippers home, falling short of making their first Western Conference Finals appearance in franchise history. Much of the credit should go to how the Nuggets gutted it out and played in the series’s final three games, but it’s hard to overlook LA’s disappointment.
That is more the case after Paul George‘s mind-boggling comments about the Clippers.
Paul George’s puzzling comments about Clippers’ championship hopes
Since the arrival of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George last offseason, championship expectations were firmly placed on the Clippers for the 2019-20 season.
It’s something that the team quickly embraced, while many marked them as the top favorites to secure the NBA title. However, Paul George appeared to contradict himself after the Game 7 loss by stating that the Clippers never internally saw this season through a “championship-or-bust” lense.
“It was obvious pressure to live up to the title expectations. But as a player, I mean, you want that. It’s the first time I’ve been in that situation where we’re expected to win. But it is what it is. It’s no cop out. The fact of the matter is, we didn’t live up to that expectation. But I think internally, we’ve always felt, this is not a championship-or-bust year for us. We can only get better the longer we stay together and the more we’re around each other.”
These are puzzling comments as it didn’t take long for NBA fans on social media to pull up many videos of George voicing championship aspirations. It has resulted in much criticism tossed his way for what many see as creating excuses for the Clippers’ playoffs’ shortcomings.
What makes it even harder to argue that point is that LA moved several draft picks and their promising young talent in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to acquire him. It all speaks to the front office putting together a team that can compete for an NBA title now and not take years building toward it.
What lies ahead of the Clippers?
The immediate fallout to the situation quickly points to the direction of the franchise.
A few roster decisions are ahead in the upcoming offseason with Montrezl Harrell,f Marcus Morris, and Reggie Jackson becoming free agents. These are likely the first moves that the team will make with the early expectation that they will have a strong push to keep Harrell.
Meanwhile, questions about Doc Rivers’ status with the team will come forward, but it’s hard to envision that they will move on from him. What should also be addressed is that Kawhi Leonard and Paul George will be entering the second year of their respective three-year deals with options to become free agents after next season.
That alone puts tremendous pressure on them to compete for an NBA title, which could quickly become the franchise’s make-or-break season. More importantly, it signals a highly critical offseason ahead for the Clippers.