By Julie Buehler
I “guaranteed” the Clippers would win Game 6.
I had watched them steamroll a stunned Rockets team into submission for 3 of the first 4 games of the series and despite an ugly and uninspired defeat in Game 5, it looked like the Clippers had turned that elusive corner from perennial disappointment to consistent contender.
So I sat behind the microphone in my radio studio and with all the authority and confidence I could muster on such a proposition, declared, “The Clippers will win Game 6 and enjoy their franchise’s first trip to the Conference Championship.”
Man, it sounded so good when I said it.
Of course for 34 minutes of that contest, it looked as though the Clippers were not only advancing, but leaving scorched earth behind them.
The Clippers had a 19-point lead with less than 3 minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter of Game 6. The Rockets had been emasculated, embarrassed and looked entirely defeated.
But then something happened. What exactly might remain a mystery longer than where Jimmy Hoffa is buried, but it was a confluence of sharp shooting by the Rockets and befuddlement by the Clippers.
It wasn’t an avalanche, but a death by a thousand cuts finished with a wrecking ball through the face of long-suffering Clippers fans.
And it wasn’t the last of the pain.
The “Game 6 Collapse”, which is likely to be analyzed for decades for its perfect artistry of heart by the Rockets and profound buffoonery by the Clippers, gave way to a Game 7 debacle in which the Clippers lost and Rockets won wire-to-wire. That means the Clippers never had a lead and the Rockets didn’t need even a 1-point comeback to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
Only 8 teams in NBA history had overcome the same 3-1 series deficit that Houston overcame to send the Clippers to the golf course.
In other words, only 8 other teams in NBA history failed as inefficiently and the Clippers became the 9th to hold such an inglorious distinction.
Sports talk radio isn’t known for logic or perspective. It’s known for hyperbole and hysteria and after the “Game 6 Collapse” that was on full display.
Talk of a “Clippers Curse” circulated and calls came in hot and heavy. No one had solutions, but they all knew the problem.
“The Clippers were doomed to failure.”
“The franchise stinks.”
“Call them the Los Angeles Chokers.”
“They’ll never be anything but second-rate.”
“The Lakers will win another title before the Clippers win their first.”
“They’ll always be in the Lakers shadow.”
Such definitive statements are easy to make and difficult to dispute. But fans and casual observers alike feel much better after uttering, tweeting or blasting them across multiple platforms.
Thing is, you just never know.
The Clippers were incredibly terrible for decades. Wherever the basement was for any franchise, in any sport, the Clippers probably had a lower moment.
It got to it’s lowest last April when the longest-tenured owner, Donald Sterling was banned from the NBA for the rest of his life for racist comments and now that they’ve failed to advance to the Western Conference Championships—again—many believe the franchise is cursed or doomed or destined for abject failure.
Let’s not forget the Lakers, one of the NBA’s most esteemed franchises battled for the NBA draft lottery Tuesday night.
Let’s not forget the Oklahoma City Thunder failed to make the playoffs this year.
Let’s not forget the Portland Trailblazers were swept out of the first round of the playoffs.
Plenty of other franchises have failed more, and flailed more spectacularly. But things are different in LA.
There’s the pressure of the billionaire owner declaring the only banners to be hung in Staples Center for the Clippers would be NBA Championship banners.
There’s the pressure of being the only relevant basketball in a town known for UCLA and Lakers lore.
There’s the pressure of Lob City and becoming one of the NBA’s most entertaining franchises.
And there’s the pressure of the Blake Griffin and Chris Paul advertisements and notoriety expanding beyond the little-brother fan base the Clippers used to know.
They’re a national brand now and that comes with lofty expectations and crushing disappointment when those expectations are not met.
So much went wrong with the Clippers this post season, but much of it is fixable.
The bench was as bi-polar as Mariah Carey and flip-flopped more than any DC politician.
The Clippers lack of ball movement illustrated a lack of trust in the offensive system, something that takes time to develop.
This is a talented team with good leadership and players that will come back stronger.
They may have failed this post season, and done so in dramatic fashion, dooming them to the history books and sports lore, but they are not doomed to failure every season. Not with that much talent and gaining experience.
Julie Buehler hosts the Coachella Valley’s most popular sports talk radio show, “Buehler’s Day Off” every day from 2-4 on 1010 KXPS, the valley’s all sports station. She can also be seen every morning between 6-7am on KMIR sharing the coolest stories in sports. She’s an avid gym rat, slightly sarcastic and more likely to recite Steve Young’s career passing stats than American Idol winners. Tune in M-F 2-4 pst at www.team1010.com or watch “Buehler’s Day Off” on Ustream and KMIR.com for her sports reports.