The 2013 NBA playoffs appeared to be the time in which the Los Angeles Clippers were preparing to make their leap to legitimacy. After their first five games against the Memphis Grizzlies, however, the Clippers are trailing 3-2 and on the brink of elimination.
Their recent collapse is the primary reason no one is giving the Clippers' title hopes a chance.
L.A. took the first two games of the series, winning in dominant fashion and off of a Chris Paul buzzer-beater. As different as those two results may have been, both sent a message that the Clippers were resilient enough to win after taking a 2-0 lead.
The general public appears to have jumped ship.
That appears to be the popular change in perception.
The Clippers entered the playoffs having won seven consecutive regular-season games. They continued that success by taking the first two games and developing overwhelming momentum.
With three straight losses and a key injury, the Clippers have gone from title contenders to the brink of elimination.
Blake Griffin's Injury
During the 2012-13 NBA regular season, All-Star power forward Blake Griffin missed just two games. As fate would have it, Griffin was unable to remain in good health once the postseason has come around.
Sadly, that injury came during practice and only got worse during Game 5.
When your second-most productive player is hurt, your title odds will almost always take a hit.
Griffin hasn't played up to his standards during the postseason, but the Clippers don't have a replacement if he is to miss playing time. After going for 19 points and 10 rebounds, it certainly seemed as if L.A. would be able to turn things around in Game 5.
With Griffin hobbled, however, the Clippers appear to be weaker than ever.
Throughout the 2012-13 NBA regular season, the Los Angeles Clippers' greatest strength was their impenetrable team chemistry. In fact, sixth man Jamal Crawford once referred to a hypothetical trade involving Eric Bledsoe as "trading a family member" (via HoopsHype).
Jordan wants nothing to do with Coach Vinny Del Negro because he blames Del Negro for burying him on the bench.
The other night in Sacramento, Griffin and Jordan exchanged words on the bench. Griffin told Jordan he best never again stare him down as he did when Griffin failed to give Jordan a good pass for a dunk...Everyone else was left to sit there while waiting for the kids to stop bickering.
The pair have also grown tired of Chris Paul's voice.
Trouble in paradise?
Since then, the Clippers have responded to the report with claims that their chemistry issues are nonexistent. From stars coming out and disputing Simers' writing to role players laughing off the remarks, we've heard it all.
Per Jovan Buha of ClipperBlog.com, Blake Griffin was the most vocal on the issue.
“Obviously we’re not playing the same,” Blake Griffin said after Friday’s practice. “We haven’t played at quite the same level. But the chemistry and the way we get along as a team, nothing has changed. If you’re in our locker room and you see us joking around and talking and even throughout the game, it’s the exact same.”
“The Sacramento thing didn’t even happen...When you really embellish a story, that’s what hurts the most. You want to believe people have better character than that.”
Simers may be coming under fire, but Griffin's claims have yet to be backed up on the court.
The Clippers appeared to have righted the ship, winning seven consecutive games entering the postseason and jumping out to a 2-0 lead. By losing three consecutive games in rather dominant fashion, however, the issues appear to have returned.
One way or another, it's all come down to a one-man show while the rest of the team struggles to come along in the proper manner.
Chris Paul vs. The World
During the Los Angeles Clippers' 112-91 Game 1 win over the Memphis Grizzlies, seven separate Clippers scored in double figures. During their 103-93 Game 5 loss, however, only two Clippers scored in double figures.
The common theme in each of those games is that Chris Paul was brilliant.
CP3 has been sensational, leading the team both as a scorer and facilitator. That includes Game 5, as Paul tallied 35 points and nearly led the team to a comeback victory.
Unfortunately, the rest of the Clippers simply didn't complement him with an acceptable level of play.
Paul is scoring at a clip of 21.8 points per game, but he's averaging just 6.0 assists per contest. Seeing as he's an elite facilitator, there's no way around the reason for CP3's poor assists totals.
No one but CP3 and Jamal Crawford seem capable of making a shot.