Even for a team that has been defined by its failures, the Clippers’ implosion against Denver in Game 7 of their second-round playoff series was a new and spectacularly awful low.
The Western Conference final remains the Promised Land, never to be visited, excruciatingly close but ever beyond the Clippers’ reach. This season was supposed to be different for them, with two-time NBA Finals most valuable player Kawhi Leonard aboard to carry them calmly through adversity and Paul George to set a standard of excellence at both ends of the floor, but it ended as too many before this have ended, in the second round and with the knowledge they could have and should have done more.
They went into the playoffs as favorites against Dallas and again against Denver. They left the playoffs with another failure on their record after they blew a gasket in the second half of their 104-89 loss to the resilient Nuggets and blew a 3-1 series lead. This was an utter collapse of mind and body, of breath and heart.
“I just think Denver beat us all around,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said during a video news conference with reporters. “For me right now, I’m in the place of giving Denver more credit and you guys can figure out where all the blame goes.”
Since he insisted on assigning blame, let’s start with Rivers himself, for stubbornly insisting on double-teaming Nikola Jokic most of the game. Jokic, who has the fine passing touch of a point guard, dished out 13 assists in a monstrous triple-double performance. Jamal Murray, left open on many of those double-teams, had 20 points in the second quarter and 40 points overall, with only four free throws.
Expectations were high for the Clippers. Ultimately, they fell short, whether because of all the lineups they had to play because of injuries and playoff-bubble absences or because of a lack of conditioning or something else.
Rivers said players’ conditioning was missing badly enough so that, “guys were asking to come out, so you had to do it, but that’s not typical for Game 7.” They should have been willing to leave everything they had on the floor. That’s another unrealized expectation.
“We didn’t meet them. That’s the bottom line,” Rivers said. “I’m the coach and I’ll take any blame for it, but we didn’t meet our expectations, clearly. Because if we had, in my opinion, we’d still be playing.”
Leonard (six for 22) and George (four for 16) were way off, most horribly in a stretch of 12 straight missed shots to end the third quarter and deep into the fourth quarter. That’s not why the Clippers moved heaven and earth and money and a raft of first-round draft picks to acquire them. George said the expectations weren’t too burdensome for them.
“It’s obvious pressure to live up to title expectations but as a player you want that. You want that,” he said. “First time I’ve been in that situation where we’re expected to win.
“But it is what it is. It’s no cop-out. The fact of matter is we didn’t live up to the expectations, but I think internally we felt this is not a championship or bust year for us.”
Rivers didn’t single George and Leonard out for blame. “Game 7s are a make-miss game at the end of the day. I don’t think it was those two,” he said. “I think as a group. It wasn’t just those two. If you look at our shot quality it was pretty dang good, but the ball didn’t go in, and on those nights you hoped that you could lean on your defense and I just didn’t think, even though numbers say we were a good defensive team, I just didn’t think we ever realized that part of our game at all.”
The Nuggets had a lot to do with that as they became the only NBA team to recover from a 3-1 series deficit twice in one postseason. “We found a way to be a really good team three times,” coach Michael Malone said.
In this series, that was more than enough to beat the Clippers. “We did have championship expectations and we had the talent to do it. I don’t think we had the chemistry to do it and it showed,” Lou Williams said.
“We had lapses on defense and on offense … it showed. But at the end of the day, we were up 3-1. We had two opportunities to win games, we were up 20 points. We should have closed this deal out and we didn’t, so you give credit to Denver for continuing to play and we take our lumps and we keep moving.”
They’ll hurt for a while. They should. They talked of improving their chemistry in the future by staying together, by becoming as instinctual as the Nuggets were, and that sounded good but who’s to say they won’t have to deal with injuries next season too? They faced adversity and blinked, and that’s something to be concerned about.
“Guys had to go home for rightful reasons. And we missed a lot of valuable time together. With injuries in the regular season and inside the bubble, we didn’t get much time to be together,” George said. “This was the longest stretch that I think we have played together, but it wasn’t enough. I think in this series, it showed.”
Denver’s a team that’s been playing together a long time.” When things got rough, when they needed this or they needed that, they just know each other. They’ve been on a string for so long and I think it showed.”
The Clippers’ shortcomings showed up too. They played themselves out of that long-anticipated West final showdown with the Lakers, and they’ll have to come to terms with another failure in a history of them. “We’ve been very optimistic about us being together and building something down the road,” George said. But they had two chances to build something this year and they didn’t, and they have to live with that.
Elliott reported from Los Angeles.
Chelsea will handle Christian Pulisic with care – Frank Lampard
Frank Lampard has insisted Chelsea cannot afford to “overcook” speed king Christian Pulisic this season.
The USA forward fired 11 goals and laid on nine assists in a hugely promising debut Premier League campaign with the Blues last term.
The 22-year-old has taken the number 10 shirt at Stamford Bridge but has missed the start of the new campaign with the hamstring injury he suffered in the FA Cup final defeat to Arsenal.
And now Blues boss Lampard has admitted Chelsea must tread carefully to maximise Pulisic’s talent without exposing him to more muscle-based injuries.
“There is always a concern about players’ fitness when the history says there have been some injuries,” said Lampard.
“Last season we had some with Christian and I was questioned many times on my position on Christian, when he was in or out of the side and he didn’t play.
“Of course, when you look at his recent record you are looking for the right balance to get the best out of him, which you saw in big periods last year. And you’re looking to make sure you don’t overcook him and leave him susceptible to injury.
“Particularly when a player has his explosive power and balance, that’s a fine line. We are working on that and Christian is very open to that.
“He wants to play, he is so hungry to play and he is nearly fit now, but it is certainly something we are going to have to manage this season.
“We have all seen the talent. It’s something we want to get right.
“I am not saying it’s a fundamental, chronic type of an issue. It’s not. But we want to get as many minutes as we can out of the really great Christian that we saw lots of last season on the pitch.
“Christian isn’t ready for West Brom and neither is Hakim Ziyech, but they are both training with us now which is good news. We hope to have them with us in proper match contention over the next week or two.”
New recruits Thiago Silva and Ben Chilwell made accomplished debuts as Chelsea overwhelmed Barnsley 6-0 in Wednesday’s League Cup third-round victory at Stamford Bridge.
Lampard believes both are fit enough for Saturday’s Premier League trip to West Brom, but will balance that with matches against Tottenham and Crystal Palace ahead next week.
“I believe they are fit enough to start,” said Lampard, of Silva and Chilwell.
“But I also have to take into consideration the fact that we play another game with quite a tight turnaround on Tuesday, and then another on Saturday, and then some players might play three games for their countries so I am managing that one.
“They came through the game on Wednesday and I think Thiago had 60 minutes in the tank, so that was good to see.
“With Ben I might be a little bit more cautious, because his injury has been quite a challenging one.
“I will make the calls but they are in a good place at the moment.”
Israel Adesanya and Paulo Costa have to be separated during UFC 253 face-off
While the rest of the UFC 253 weigh-in face-offs went off without a hitch, headliners Israel Adesanya and Paulo Costa had to be separated by security and UFC president Dana White.
Adesanya puts his middleweight championship on the line opposite Costa in the UFC 253 main event, while Dominick Reyes squares off with Jan Blachowicz for the light heavyweight title vacated by Jon Jones.
(Video courtesy of MMA Junkie)
TRENDING > What makes Israel Adesanya vs. Paulo Costa so special? Somebody’s O has got to go!
UFC 253: Adesanya vs. Costa full weigh-in face-offs
(Video courtesy of UFC)
Senators waive Bobby Ryan for purposes of a buyout
The Senators have placed Bobby Ryan on waivers for the purpose of buying out the remainder of his contract.
Ryan came to Ottawa via trade from the Ducks during the 2013 off-season. The 33-year-old forward played 455 games with the Senators, scoring 107 goals and recording 266 points.
Friday marks the opening of the NHL’s first buyout window. It will run through Oct. 8 at 5 p.m. ET.
Buying out the final two years of Ryan’s contract will spread across Ottawa’s cap for the next four seasons. According to CapFriendly, the Senators will have a $3,583,333M cap hit for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 NHL seasons and then a $1,833,333M hit for 2022-23 and 2023-24.
This move will save the Senators $3.67M. GM Pierre Dorion will have plenty of money to spend in free agency in a few weeks, or perhaps take on a bad contract or two if there’s sweetener involved.
[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]
Ryan was a four-time 30-goal scorer while in Anaheim but his offense took a dip over his final seasons in Ottawa. He netted 23 in his first year there and then 22 in 2015-16, but he never reached 20 goals again. This past season he took a leave of absence from the Senators to deal with an alcohol problem. He returned in February and recorded an emotional hat trick in his first home game back.
For his efforts, Ryan was awarded the 2019-20 Masterton Trophy by the Professional Hockey Writers Association.
Dorion is in makeover mode and his recent moves show he’s preparing for the future. Mark Borowiecki and goaltender Craig Anderson were told they won’t be back, and now Ryan will be gone as well. A youth movement is in place and will be helped by the team owning nine picks in the opening three rounds of the upcoming draft.
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.
Senators waive Bobby Ryan for purposes of a buyout originally appeared on NBCSports.com
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