The story was already written at the start of the season.
Kawhi Leonard vs LeBron James, Paul George vs Anthony Davies, the Clippers vs the Lakers in a battle for LA and for the West.
It was a script fit for Hollywood.
LeBron, AD and co. held up their end of the story and were sitting impatiently waiting for the Clippers to get through the Denver Nuggets and at half-time in Game Six earlier this week it must have seemed like it was finally showtime.
But the way the Clippers relinquished their commanding lead to the see the Nuggets force a winner-take-all shootout on Wednesday morning (AEST) suggested that the script was about to get rewritten.
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It is no longer the telling of a colossal battle between two great rivals, but now the story of the journey of the underdog, David facing up to Goliath.
But in backdrop of the West’s prime-time offering the Clippers will start to pick apart its season and how something so promising went so badly askew.
The Clippers put all their chips on the table at the start of the season, sinking $285m (AUD) and five first-round draft picks (and more…) into two players in one crazy hour to change the face of the franchise, and hopefully its fortunes with it.
Kawhi cost $140m to take from free agency while George’s contract amounts to $144.5m, plus the two players and five first-round picks (two via Miami) to prise him from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
It was a huge investment, but it was absolutely one worth making. The Clippers went from a good team to a great team overnight. This was now a team far removed from the years of being the laughing stock of Los Angeles, hidden in the shadows of the Lakers’ successes.
It was now a season when this already playoff-ready team would be pushed over the top by its two new additions and ascend to greatness for the first in its 50-year history.
Or, it was supposed to be.
Presented with two opportunities to close out the Nuggets in the conference semis before this morning’s Game Seven, the Clippers blew both in spectacular fashion. First, they wasted a 16-point lead in Game Five, then a 19-point advantage in Game Six vanished.
And now, in Game Seven, a crushing 15-point defeat thanks to the brilliance of Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic has plunged the Clippers back into the shadows – only this time with even more of a chuckle from the other side of LA, and even less cash in its back pocket.
“Listen, when you decide to be a coach, it’s not going to be roses every day,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said after Game Six. “So we clearly have the right formula as far as how we’re playing, and then we keep losing it.”
Whether Rivers gets a chance to work out how 1+1=3 in the Disneyland bubble is another thing, with Kawhi and George now just one season away from having the option to enter free agency.
The Clippers’ ambition 12 months ago now looks impatient, with a potential franchise cornerstone in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and unprotected first-round picks in 2022, 2024 and 2026, plus pick swaps in 2023 and 2025, all now belonging to the Thunder.
The Clippers have nothing left to trade; all they can do is offer Leonard and George contract extensions and hope they take them. But, whether either of them do or not is a problem for another day.
In those two franchise pieces the Clippers only secured two bites at the cherry.
They just choked on the first one.
They now need a top-down analysis of how things went so far astray from their pre-season title-favourite status, to make sure that second bite satisfies their hunger.