The Los Angeles Clippers were considered by many to be the favorites to win the 2019-20 NBA Championship. Unfortunately, instead of actually doing that, they got knocked out in the second round of the Western Conference Playoffs by a Denver Nuggets group that at one point was down 3-1 in the series.
On Wednesday, Clippers star Paul George appeared on the All The Smoke podcast with Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes to explain what went wrong.
“During that whole process, we never worked on adjustments. We never worked on what to do differently,” George said.
“We’re just literally having the same shit happen over and over again. It started to play a trick on you like, ‘Man, what’s going on?’ We’re talking amongst each other, the conversation is like, ‘We’re going to be all right,’ the conversation should’ve been like, ‘Nah, we need to change.'”
One of the things that is said to have led to Doc Rivers’ ousting as Clippers head coach was his refusal to adjust in the playoffs. Most notably, nobody could figure out why he kept playing Montrezl Harrell over fellow center Ivica Zubac against Denver despite the latter being a more efficient option.
The Clippers recorded a team-best 11.1 net rating when Zubac was paired with Leonard and George. With Harrell in Zubac’s place, the net rating was -30.1.
George also wasn’t very happy with the way he was used.
“Doc was trying to play me as a Ray Allen or a JJ Redick. All pin-downs,” George continued.
“I can do it, but that ain’t my game. I need some flow. I need some mixes of pick-and-rolls. I need some post-ups. Just different touches. … That last season was just hard overall.”
All that being said, Rivers’ ineffective coaching was not the Clippers’ only problem last year. There were some very real chemistry issues at work – many of which stemmed from George himself.
Gordon Hayward kept it real. https://t.co/WXSIcCxkTt
— Game 7 (@game7__) December 2, 2020
According to Jovan Buha of The Athletic, many players on the team didn’t understand why George got such preferential star treatment from Clippers brass.
“Teammates had a level of acceptance of Leonard’s preferential treatment, as his status as a two-time champion and two-time Finals MVP — the then-reigning Finals MVP, at that — was indisputable,” he wrote.
“But George’s treatment was more of an issue within the locker room, league sources said. George, while a perennial All-Star and All-NBA candidate, didn’t carry the same cachet with his teammates.
— Game 7 (@game7__) December 1, 2020
“There was a sentiment among certain teammates of, ‘What have you accomplished in the playoffs?’ multiple league sources said.”
This aligns with other examples of George not quite striking the right note with his teammates.
George had a notable skirmish with Harrell in Game 2 of their Western Conference semifinals showdown against the Nuggets. It stemmed from a turnover by George that he refused to take responsibility for, prompting Harrell to reply with something along the lines of, “You’re always right. Nobody can tell you nothing.”
Colby Covington issued a direct warning to LeBron. https://t.co/JcgkT2ELjN
— Game 7 (@game7__) December 1, 2020
There was also the time, after the Clippers got eliminated by Denver, when George attempted to give his teammates a motivational speech, only to be met with “eye rolls and bewilderment.”
Plus there was that whole ordeal where Leonard’s trainer mercilessly clowned George’s basketball IQ – likely speaking at least in some capacity to the way Leonard views his superstar teammate.
This is going to be a big year for the Clippers. In 2019-20, Rivers was the scapegoat for the franchise’s underpeformance – but he isn’t going to be around next season. If LA wins a title or comes close to it, all of this past year’s failures will become a distant memory. If history repeats itself, then suddenly this group may go down as the most disappointing super team of all time.