By Dennis Berry
It's ok to admit that when you think of successful NBA franchises, the Los Angeles Clippers are not the first team that pops into your mind. You would probably pick them to be the worst franchise in the history of the league. No one could blame you either.
The Clippers have been around since the 1970-71 season. During that time the franchise was the Buffalo Braves. It only took four years for the franchise to make the playoffs for the first time in 1974. That would be the first of three straight years in the playoffs. The highlight being the franchise's first playoff series win in 1976 over the Philadelphia 76ers.
Who knew that what would follow would be decades of bad basketball.
After two more years in Buffalo the franchise would be headed west to San Diego. The team would become the Clippers and it would be the start of a run of playoff-less basketball. They would be in San Diego for six years and they would not make the playoffs one time. After the 1983-84 season they would be on the move again.
This time they would move up the west coast to Los Angeles. After nine years in LA and 12 straight losing seasons from 1979-80 to 1990-91 they finally made the playoffs. They would lose to the Utah Jazz 3-2. They would make it to the playoffs again the following year, but would lose to the Houston Rockets 3-2.
It took three years before they would make it back to the playoffs. This time they would be swept 3-0 by the eventual Western Conference Champions; the Utah Jazz.
Fast forward nine seasons to the 2005-06 season. The Clippers have gone 203-421 the previous nine seasons. By this point the franchise is seen as the worst run team in the league. Yet that season gives Clippers fans a reason to hope for the future.
Led by All-Star power forward Elton Brand they go 47-35 and make the playoffs. They finish sixth overall in West and play the Denver Nuggets in the first round. The Clippers control series from the start, only losing game three in Denver. They reward their long suffering fans with a playoffs series win at home.
Although they would lose in the second round to the Phoenix Suns 4-3, Clippers fans had hope. That is what one playoffs series win after 30 years will do to a fan base.
Sadly the team was not able to continue build on that year's success. They would miss the playoffs the following year, going 40-42 and finishing ninth in the Western Conference. The following year the losing would once again become the norm as the Clippers would go 143-267 over the next five years.
Now once again fans of the Clippers have reason to be optimistic. After going 40-26 in a shortened season, the Clippers won the franchise's third playoffs series in 42 years. It is not only because they won the series but how they did it.
First there was the game one comeback against the Memphis Grizzlies. After trailing by as many as 27 points and by 21 points going into the fourth quarter, the Clippers could have easily called it a night. Instead they tied the record for largest comeback in NBA Playoffs history to 99-98.
Then after going ahead 3-1 in the series they almost let it slip away. They let the Grizzlies come back to tie the series at 3-3 with game seven in Memphis. If they lost the series, it would just confirm that the Clippers were still in fact, just the Clippers.
The Clippers trailed by one point going into the fourth quarter. The Clippers though would outscore the Grizzlies by 11 points in the fourth quarter and win 82-72. For just the second time since leaving Buffalo, the Clippers were moving on to the second round.
The funny thing was it was not All-Stars Blake Griffin or Chris Paul who would lead the charge. It would be the Clippers bench. That bench would score 25 of the 27 points the team scored. It was Kenyon Martin and Nick Young who controlled the fourth quarter.
The success this year can be traced all the way back to the acquisition of Chris Paul. He has come in and changed the culture for the Clippers. His competitiveness and will to win has rubbed off on his teammates. For the sake of the Clippers, lets hope it spreads all over the franchise.
If you don't the effect Paul has had on the Clippers look at the results. The Clippers won a playoff series and they did it by winning game seven on the road. They did it against team that many picked to make it all the way to the conference finals.
Now the next step for the Clippers is to move past the second round into the conference finals. To do that they will have to beat the best team in the NBA this year: the San Antonio Spurs. They will have to beat team who core has won multiple NBA titles.
If the Clippers want to prove that things are changing for the other tenant of the Staples Center, then this series is their chance to do it. Many figure that the Spurs will make quick work of a less experienced Clippers squad. They have been resting for a week while the Clippers fought off the Grizzlies.
If the Clippers can push the Spurs to six or seven games it would be a huge statement. If they find a way to knock out the Spurs… well let's not get ahead of ourselves.