Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
“They ran into a real team that played together, not in spite of each other,” the executive said to the Los Angeles Times‘ Andrew Greif.
For reasons in and out of their control, the Clippers never clicked this season.
Partially because of their load management plan, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George appeared in 57 and 48 games, respectively. George’s 29.6 minutes per game were his fewest since 2014-15, while Leonard averaged 32.4 minutes, down from 34.0 last year.
Carefully monitoring Leonard and George’s workloads might also have adversely impacted Los Angeles in the postseason, when it would inevitably need to lean on the pair.
The lengthy break caused by the COVID-19 pandemic made it even more difficult to get Leonard and George to mesh with what was already a roster good enough to get the Clippers into the playoffs in 2019.
Hinting at larger issues behind the scenes, Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes reported George and Montrezl Harrell got into an argument on the bench in Game 2 of the conference semifinals. George effectively blamed Harrell for a turnover, while Harrell thought George shouldn’t have made a pass into double coverage:
“Harrell responded with something along the lines of, ‘You’re always right. Nobody can tell you nothing,’ and expletives were uttered from both players, sources said. George eventually toned down his rhetoric, but a heated Harrell wasn’t having it. Teammates began clapping on the sideline, in part to disguise what was going on and in an attempt to defuse the situation. The incident deescalated shortly after as coach Doc Rivers took his seat to go over the game plan.”
The Clippers’ playoff flop is a reminder that talent only goes so far. Rather than regrouping as the Nuggets clawed back in the final three games of the series, Los Angeles unraveled completely.
“We start missing shots, and you can see us trusting less and less and less,” Rivers said, per Greif. “I mean, listen, obviously I could have done something more.”
Denver, on the other hand, had the kind of cohesion that generally only comes from experience. Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic have spent four years together. Gary Harris in his sixth year with the team, while Paul Millsap, Mason Plumlee, Torrey Craig and Monte Morris have three-plus years in the Mile High City under their belt.
The Clippers signed Leonard and acquired George to become a championship contender. Failing to even reach the Western Conference Finals is a failure.
Los Angeles can at least salvage something from this if its players discover how they need to be better as a collective in order to achieve their goals.