Los Angeles, CA — The 2018 NBA regular season has come to an end for the Los Angeles Clippers (48-34), and most experts, general managers around the league, and even fans, did not have this Clipper team making the postseason. They no longer had a marquee name like they've had in years past (Griffin, Paul, Jordan) and they approach this season under the radar.
This Clipper team took the challenge.
They started the year off strong and surprised everyone, except for themselves. They had the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference at one point earlier in the season, but most people assumed they would be tanking after trading away their leading scorer Tobias Harris to the Philadelphia Sixers, and wanting to keep their draft pick if they didn’t make the postseason.
Head Coach Doc Rivers and his players didn’t see it that way.
After their final regular season win on Wednesday night against the Utah Jazz (143-137 in overtime) and longtime announcer Ralph Lawler calling his final regular season game after 40 years being part of the Clipper organization, this team had secured its position heading into postseason.
Photo By: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
This team stayed its course and found themselves 14 games over .500. Many feel this was one of Rivers’ best coaching jobs, as he was able to get his team to the postseason as the only qualified team out of the 16 to not have an All-Star on its roster. Led by a veteran core of guys who haven't had a ton of spotlight on them in their careers, Patrick Beverley, Danilo Gallinari, Lou Williams, and Montrezl Harrell were the four that Rivers was able to count on all year.
Now they will get the defending back-to-back champion Golden State Warriors (57-25) in the first round.
The season series was won by the Warriors (3-1) with the last three going to the Champs, and it took an extra five minutes without one of the Warriors’ best players (Curry) suiting up for that game. Rivers knows what happened during the regular season won’t matter come postseason:
"It's a whole new season," Rivers said. "Time to get going."
His players know the tough task ahead and how the defending champs will be, and should be, highly favored. "The pressure is on them, of course," Beverley said, who returned scoring 14 points after missing the previous three. "We understand we have to do everything the right way to beat this team."
Sixth Man Montrezl Harrell, who had 24 points in 21 minutes, spoke after the game about the matchup with the Champs: "We got a battle ahead of us and it's about locking in." Harrell knows that the young rookies Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Landry Shamet are going to have to seize the moment, because they are going to be relied on, just as they have been all season.
The bench, which was one of the best during the regular season, must continue to be just that if LA is to take down the champs.
Photo By: Mercury news
The Warriors will be looking to capture its third straight championship, and fourth out of the last five. Just like Los Angeles, they ended their season in epic fashion playing its final regular season game at the Oracle Arena after 47 years. They will be looking to become the first team to three-peat since the 2000 Lakers.
They know they’re once again the hunted, and the other 15 teams will come after what they have. Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green have all been here before.
Two-time reigning Finals MVP Durant had a lot of good things to say about the Clippers leading into Saturday's game 1 matchup:
"They got an all-world scorer in Lou Williams who can get it going at any time in the game from anywhere. You got [Danilo] Gallinari who can do the same. And then you got wing players like [Landry] Shamet and Wilson Chandler, guys that can come in and give you some problems in the playoffs for a stretch; having another big player like [Ivica] Zubac, so they got a nice team, well-coached. They're going to definitely play us extremely hard from the start, and it's not going to be as easy as people think it is," Durant said.
A few of the Warriors players wanted Los Angeles in the first round because of several reasons, one being the short flight from northern California to LAX. “I would like to stay close to the Bay,” All-Star Thompson said last month. “LA would be nice because we don’t have to travel far.”
Head Coach Steve Kerr gave his thoughts about this LA team and what he could expect from them: "It’s a hell of an opponent. They’ve had a fantastic season,” Kerr said of the Clippers. “I’ve loved what they have done in terms of rebuilding on the fly without taking a step backwards and in fact getting better with every move that they’ve made. They’ve really put themselves in a position for the future, and making the playoffs surprised a lot of people. The way they played the last couple of months, they’ve been rock solid. We’re going to have to work hard and play well.”
Regardless, Rivers knows the task at hand and he spoke about it after the two teams played less than a week ago: “If you want to win, you've got to play somebody at some point. We're not dodging."
They are going to have to do just that.
Game 1: Saturday 4/13 @ 5:00pm PT.