Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
The Los Angeles Clippers were supposed to challenge for the title from the start of the season.
Or at least face the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.
“I was never comfortable,” Rivers said, per Marc J. Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated. “Never was. Conditioning-wise we had guys who couldn’t play minutes.”
Spears added more details:
To be fair, the Clippers dealt with injuries and attrition throughout the season. Patrick Beverley played just one game in the first round of the playoffs, while Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and others missed some time during the season.
It surely impacted the team’s ability to develop a rhythm together, and then the COVID-19 pandemic uprooted the entire season and moved it to Walt Disney World Resort following a long break.
The continuity was not there, but this team is also loaded with talent. In fact, the argument can be made it is the most talented in the league and should not be blowing 3-1 leads to anyone.
Leonard (6-of-22) and George (4-of-16) never found their shots from the field, and the Clippers had no answers for the dynamic duo of Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic. Murray scored 25 points in the first half alone on his way to 40, while Jokic absolutely stuffed the stat sheet with 16 points, 22 rebounds, 13 assists, three blocks and two steals.
It was an incredible performance from a center who will be tasked with playing at the top of his game against Anthony Davis and the Lakers in the next round.
Still, the story was the Clippers’ collapse and the stunningly poor performance from their two stars with the season on the line. The team as a whole scored 33 points in the second half, turning a halftime lead into a blowout loss.
Perhaps it was a result of poor conditioning, but L.A.’s failure to make it past even the second round is one of the biggest shocks of the entire NBA season.