Stronger than ever post-Sterling, Clippers pose real threat to Thunder

Team has forged a strong bond after the Donald Sterling scandal and match up well with Kevin Durant and OKC, writes Jonathan Raymond.
JJ Redick, left, and Darren Collison hug after the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Golden State Warriors in Game 7. Stephen Dunn / Getty Images
JJ Redick, left, and Darren Collison hug after the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Golden State Warriors in Game 7. Stephen Dunn / Getty Images

Momentum is something of a funny concept in sports. Nebulous, arbitrary and fleeting, “momentum” is more often than not one of those sports cliches that, at the bottom of it, usually doesn’t actually mean anything.

But if any team actually ever had something approaching discernible momentum, it might be this year’s Los Angeles Clippers.

In the immediate wake of the Donald Sterling episode, the Clippers looked rightly drained. It wasn’t even clear they would go ahead and play Game 4 against the Golden State Warriors before the NBA banned the owner for life for his racist remarks. They did play, and they were beaten soundly.

But with Sterling banished, LA looked like a new team in Game 5. A team that could focus on basketball again.

“Honestly, I think it was relief because we didn’t have to wonder anymore,” said Clippers guard Jamal Crawford of the situation following that fifth game.

“It’s crazy to me to think that a team as good as Golden State didn’t get our full attention for three days, and that’s human nature, but we were distracted,” said JJ Redick.

Once the NBA removed the distraction, the Clippers were able to go on and win two of the next three games and finish off the tough Warriors. Now they can think about making an even deeper run.

The fact is no team in NBA history, or at least recent history, has had to deal with anything like the Clippers had to in this series. If ever there was a team that forged stronger bonds in the face of adversity, this would be it. If any team could grab hold of that ephemeral “momentum” and ride it for a while, it would seem to be this one.

It helps that their next opponents, the Oklahoma City Thunder, are a prime target for an upset.

The things that OKC struggled with against their first-round opponents, the Memphis Grizzlies, are the same things the Clippers possess. Namely, strength inside in Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and a hounding wing defender, in Matt Barnes, to throw at Kevin Durant.

Rather than getting bogged down by the San Antonio Spurs or having to run, like they did against the Warriors, with the Portland Trail Blazers, the Clippers can dictate pace and enforce their game plan against Oklahoma City if they can keep Durant contained.

And if they can get by the Thunder, just maybe they can carry a bit of momentum right on into the NBA Finals.

A Clippers title run would, if nothing else, mark a tidy end to Donald Sterling’s time in the NBA, watching the team he mismanaged for so long hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy without him.

Published: May 5, 2014 04:00 AM


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