Clippers season crashes to an end in Dallas

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Questions loom as one of the biggest offseasons in Clippers franchise history beings earlier than expected as the Mavericks win the first-round series.

And just like that, the season is over for the Clippers.

Kyrie Irving scored 30 points — including five 3-pointers — and propelled the Dallas Mavericks to the second round of the NBA Playoffs on Friday with a 114-101 Game 6 victory over the Clippers in Dallas’ American Airlines Center.

The Mavericks won the series 4-2 and face the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.

The Clippers, though, are left thinking what they didn’t do in this series. Namely, second-chance points and 3-point shooting.

LA shot 42% from the field and 8 for 31 from 3-point range. When the defense is not at its best and shots are not falling, this team has a hard time getting its motor going.

For the second consecutive game, Paul George and James Harden underperformed. Harden had 16 points and George had 18 — and they made a combined 11 field goals.

For the fifth season in a row, the Clippers are eliminated with more question than answers.

Here are three takeaways:

Another Leonard injury

It’s hard not to feel bad for Kawhi Leonard. He played in the most games he has suited up for in the regular season since the 2016-2017 season and was an All-Star yet again.

He has a real case for making the All-NBA team as well, but with three weeks to go in the regular season, his same surgically repaired right knee (torn ACL in 2021 and torn meniscus in 2023) was inflamed. 

The injury kept Leonard out for the final three weeks and Game 1 of the playoffs. When Leonard came back for games 2 and 3, he was a shell of himself. The Clippers made the decision to hold him out for Game 4 and beyond. 

With a three-year contract extension signed, Leonard is the one player that will be back, but what would it matter? Around April in recent years Kawhi has not been available. 

As superb a basketball player as he is, is it worth the risk yet again? We should see Leonard at the Intuit Dome opening night this fall regardless of the risks. 

Stars collapse late

The two future free agents did not get it done when it mattered: The 66 points combined in Game 4 by George and Harden were the last flashes of excellence the Clippers saw. Over Games 5 and 6, both Paul George (10 of 31 field goals) and James Harden (7 of 28) were no-shows. 

Defensively, they could not keep up with the athletic and revamped Mavericks. Offensively, they were not aggressive, made bad decisions  and were inefficient as they combined for 10 turnovers in the last two games.

With so much promise of going into a home game in Game 5 and both Harden and George in a groove, it seemed inevitable the Clippers were going to win. Then they suffered their worst postseason loss in franchise history. 

In Game 6, both stars played almost identical to Game 5. Lackadaisical handle, bad shooting and no effort on defense and the boards were the killer.

Both are now up for big contracts and it could’ve been the last we saw from George and Harden in Clippers colors. By all reports, it looks like the Clippers will try to bring both back.

Is that the right move? We will have to reconvene six months from now. 

What now?

After another disappointing playoffs for the past decade and a half, what do the Clippers do now? 

Leonard is locked up, but the roster is the oldest in the NBA. Does the team want to sign two guys who are might be past their prime? The answer seems to be yes, but it might not be the right decision. 

The Clippers are opening a new arena in October and that could be a major factor in running this group back, but they are not getting any younger. With the new salary-cap rules, no young star is walking through that door at the Intuit Dome any time soon either, so it is put up or shut up time for at least the next two years if that happens. 

  • Russell Westbrook had his worst stretch of his Clippers tenure in this year’s playoffs, but his infectious attitude and energy were a spark off the bench.
  • Leonard has the potential to be a top five player in the NBA when healthy.
  • George was an all-star and borderline all-NBA this season.
  • Harden was the point guard the Clippers sought for years.

It seemed to be working. The team went 26-5 during December and January. 

However, this core has failed to make history for the franchise and that should be weighed in these contract negotiations. 

Clipper fans deserve much much more than what they have gotten from these past five years, and if that tide is going to turn anytime soon, it will be at a new arena with a new design.

Will the big four be there to help turn it?