Doyle Rader: From what one can gather, beyond their 3-1 lead over the Memphis Grizzlies, the Los Angeles Clippers are not a team about basketball. Sure, they are comprised of men who run around on a basketball court and occasionally dribble or shoot an orange Spalding, but at their essence, we should believe, that is not what they are about. No, they are about flopping and doing so as if it were their birthright. Forget Chris Paul‘s brilliance, forget Blake Griffin‘s power, and forget Reggie Evans‘ muckraking. They are all floppers! That is all we need to know about them.
Travis Huse: Since when has a Los Angeles sports team been about sports? The officials are giving them superstar calls, and it’s not surprising. Last season, the Thunder won a first-round game against Denver because Kendrick Perkins got off with a clutch offensive interference (the same situation that earned Rick Carlisle a technical foul in THIS season’s opening series). With the obvious decrease in league-wide interest in the Lakers, as well as the splashy new ownership of the Dodgers, the league has to protect the market in LA. Wait, did I just say that?
DR: You did. It’s OK. I’ll let it slide. But you are right to some extent that sport is not the first thing one thinks about when it comes to the narrative of the Clippers. There’s the bigotry of Donald Sterling, the years of futility, and Billy Crystal. But this is different. Those are examples of narratives within the team and its existence…and Billy Crystal. This isn’t about calls either. Flops aren’t a foul, they are a tool used to draw them, an embarrassing one, but one nonetheless, and I refuse to believe that the league has motives to call the series a certain way. This is about a narrative, that of the flop, being superimposed on the Clippers by outside forces rather than letting the Clippers forge their own story. It’s akin to preëmptive hindsight in a way. If that even makes sense.
TH: I’ll agree with you on some aspects of what you just wrote. But not too much. The Clippers have a wonderful offensive lineup, with the best playmaker in the game in Paul, and one of the best finishers in Griffin. But for a team that relies so much on strength and athleticism, their defensive strategy has been, well, wimpy. In the regular season, they let opponents shoot 36.5% from the three, a mark that places them third worst in the league. Griffin has a vertical leap of about a trillion inches, yet hasn’t recorded a single block in the first four games, but he’s gathered 21 fouls. His biggest criticism all season long was his lack of a complete basketball game, and this team is comprised almost entirely of players in much the same vein. What happens when the Grizzlies move firmly to a hack-a-Quake strategy? He’s shooting 55.6% from the free throw line, compared to his FG% of 56.9% so far this postseason. This Memphis team is a strong team, and could still pull off this series. If they don’t, the Clippers are going to face the best offensive team in the league right now in San Antonio. They might not have the interior big men defenders that Memphis has, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable at all trading buckets with the Spurs. This is a team that should be able to use their size, agility, and speed to shut down pick-and-rolls, but it takes the thing they lack. Grit and grind.
Let them win a playoff series. It will make their second-round exit that much more humbling, and they need that. They don’t deserve a shot at the Western Conference title; don’t deserve a spot in the playoffs. I’m not ready to crown the Thunder the heralded kings of the West, let alone the Clippers.
DR: I’m not ready to crown anyone. You’re right that the Clippers are a wholly flawed team but that isn’t what their narrative is being shaped as. Nor is it trending towards their resiliency late in games thus far though the indomitable will of Paul. The overarching theme of the flopping Clippers has been propagated by entities such as True Hoop and their Hoop Idea campaign. Together they have forced a narrative on the Clippers. The idea of the flop as the embodiment of the Clippers is an idea created by others rather than letting the team forge its own image. This seems to be a larger concept that I am working towards as a whole. It isn’t the numbers or play on the court that seem to matter. It is one thing that defines them.
TH: Those are things we’ve heard all season long. I think the hype now on flopping is more a statement that they need an induction into hard playoff basketball than anything, and I wish the refs would let them take the sort of contact that they’ve received. This team should be so much tougher than they are, but there’s been too much posturing and preening. It has to feel good to bring such a historically awful team to the brink of the second round and I understand that. But watching them is infuriating because they only work half of each game. It’s been thrown around too much, but it’s there, and it shouldn’t be ignored.
DR: Obviously, the flopping can’t be ignored. It happens. We see it. It’s embarrassing for everyone, yet, the over emphasis in coverage of the flopping is verging on ludicrous. Flopping is not the embodiment of the Clippers. Lots of NBA players flop. It just happens. Perhaps what I am really trying to say is “get over it” and stop positing one act, out of the hundreds that take place during the course of a basketball game, as the end-all be-all of the Clippers playoff run. Just roll your eyes and move on.