Whatever happens in the rest of the NBA playoffs, you’ve really got to tip your cap to the Los Angeles Clippers. A team known for its inability to win big games has won three in a row – each one bigger than the previous one.
The Clippers beat the Spurs in San Antonio in Game 6 of the first round of the playoffs, they beat the Spurs on a last-second shot in Game 7 to oust the defending NBA champions, and they beat the Rockets in Houston in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.
That’s quite a stretch.
“It was 47 hours between the final buzzer of that extraordinary Game 7 and the opening tip in Houston,” Clippers radio host Isaac Lowenkron said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “The Rockets had been coming of a five-day layoff, so they were as fresh as daises, and then the Clippers don’t have Chris Paul. It was the first game he missed all season. Then they fall behind by 13 points in the second quarter, so it was a really impressive statement to this team’s mental toughness. Blake Griffin was absolutely dominant the whole game. He had a career-high 13 assists. But so many people across the board – pretty much everyone who played (Monday) night – contributed to that big win without Chris Paul.”
All five Clippers starters finished in double figures, including Austin Rivers and J.J. Redick, who scored 17 apiece. Jamal Crawford added 21 off the bench, as Los Angeles shot 12-of-31 (41.9 percent) from three-point range int he 117-101 win.
The Clippers have won four of their last five games, with three of the wins coming on the road. They fell behind 2-1 and 3-2 in their series against San Antonio but refused to give in. The result was a Game 7 that was without question the best game of the playoffs thus far. In the end, Paul’s wild, fading, banked-in lay-up from the edge of the paint – over both Danny Green and Tim Duncan – allowed the Clippers to advance.
“It was a privilege to be there in person,” Lowenkron said. “And what made it particularly unique was a lot of times in Game 7, because of the pressure involved, it gets to be a grind-it-out affair in which both teams are essentially slogging through the game. It’s interesting. A Game 7 played in the same building – Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals between the Lakers and the Celtics – was that kind of game. But one of the things that made it so appealing and intense was both teams were so free-wheeling and aggressive and they were going for it. They were aggressive instead of passive.
“I honestly think it goes down as the greatest opening-round series in NBA playoff history,” Lowenkron said. “I think before that you could say the ’09 first-round series between the Celtics and the Bulls, where four of the games – including three in a row – went to overtime. I think the first six games were intense enough, but then to have Game 7 go down to literally the last-second shot, I think that made it the greatest first-round series for my money ever.”
Not everything, however, is perfect in Los Angeles, as Paul is still dealing with the hamstring injury he suffered in Game 7 against San Antonio. Head coach Doc Rivers said there is only a 50/50 chance that Paul plays in Game 2 against Houston on Wednesday.
Lowenkron would have no issue with Paul sitting.
“This is my own personal opinion, but . . . maybe the Clippers should consider not playing Chris until they lose a game in this series,” he said. “Because obviously in the short term they’re trying to beat the Houston Rockets and they have three more wins to go, but they’re also trying to win an NBA championship and hamstrings are tricky. Doc actually had the same sort of injury that Chris is dealing with during his playing days, and the last thing you want is for Chris to come back too soon and then have the hamstring nag and affect him for the rest of the playoff run, assuming the Clippers continue to advance.”