First minute of the first LA Clippers game in the 2015-16 preseason: Paul Pierce steals the ball and assists DeAndre Jordan for a dunk. First two points of the new Clippers era. Will their opposition be able to handle their new found truth?
Burying the ghosts
We all know LA Clippers sad history. From bottom feeders of the Association to one of their most prominent teams in just a few years, it´s fair to say it´s been quite a bumpy ride. Although they showed improvement throughout last few seasons, the Clippers could never convince the pundits and analysts of the NBA. However, some saw them as finally capable of contending for the Title after beating the reigning champions in the first round of the playoffs. It seemed their bad luck and epic misfortune (or lack of killer instinct in the playoffs) was coming to an end! Nevertheless, as they were dominating the Rockets, what happened next is now engraved in playoffs history. A remarkable 4th quarter run led by Josh Smith turned not only that game but the “feel” of the entire series. All of the sudden Clippers went back to their typical (could it be “embedded” in their DNA?!) ways, with their trademark indecision and hesitation moments in crunch time. As always, Clippers didn´t manage to reach the next level. They could not exorcize those suffocating ghosts from the past. All those years, all that losing…
Focusing on the future, rather than dwelling on the past, this season the Clippers decided to assemble a complete team, able to face any negative circumstance and adversity.
They needed more shooters. They now have at their disposal CP3, JJ Redick, Jamal Crawford, Wesley Johnson and Prigioni.
They needed versatility. They got the player who almost single-handedly defeated them with just that. An eternal undepreciated Josh Smith, a very intriguing and quite unique player, able to defend and attack at the 3 and 4 position as well as fighting on the offensive boards against undersized centers. They also got Lance Stephenson, a very good perimeter defender, who will defend the backcourt opposing threats. Last but not least, they managed to score the future Hall of Famer Paul Pierce. We all know how valuable he was for the Washington Wizards in the playoffs.
They needed depth. Stephenson, Prigioni, Johnson, Prigioni Mbah a Moute, Pierce and Smith can intertwine their efforts creating multiple lineups. If we look at last year´s Clippers bench and this season players it´s day and night. This is a great leap forward. It´s time for the Clippers nation to finally believe they can go all the way. This roster is almost flawless.
First game before going abroad
After jumping to an early 12-4 lead, LA Clippers showed some flashes of what´s ahead. First off, a mesmerizing pass from Blake Griffin to JJ Reddick at the corner 3 spot, an almost Magic Johnson like assist. Will Blake Griffin continue to improve? By now no one is surprised at his production from a scoring and rebounding standpoint. Improving his assists number and overall passing ability will make this team even stronger.
Stephenson and Wes Johnson didn´t have a very remarkable game from a statistician perspective but, alongside with Prigioni and Josh Smith, they made their opposition know this will be a force to be feared in the western conference. Prigioni is an extremely smart and savvy player. He reads the passing lanes as good as anyone and he can help Austin Rivers expand his skill set from a purely assist first point guard viewpoint.
The game was going well for the LA Clippers until a late surge from the Nuggets made those ghosts from the past rise. With all their dominance throughout the game, flashy dunks and fancy passing, the Clippers found themselves winning by only one possession when the game entered his final minute. This was the moment a new player decided to show the Clippers fans this can be their season. After a missed shot, the ball rolled around the rim, circling it not once, not twice but three times (the same as Doc Rivers seasons as the Clippers head coach, a curiosity… or an omen?) until Josh Smith went up ferociously and stole that rebound from the hands of the Nuggets opposing player. In a swift move, he graciously put back the ball in the basket. The game was finally won.
Once again Josh Smith has come to conquer. Last season he made his mark on the Rockets postseason. Houston will surely miss him this time. Alongside Pierce, Stephenson, Wesley Johnson and Prigioni this team can finally conquer the NBA Championship. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan count on them to take this team to the promised land. The top of the class shooters Jamal Crawford and JJ Redick welcomed their arrival. In this game a new truth was told to the faithful Clippers fanbase: they now have all the pieces needed to solve the “how to assemble a NBA Champion Team” puzzle.