LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles Clippers’ season began in an
empty arena with cardboard cutouts, COVID-19 tests, and protocols
for everything. It ended with the team reaching the Western
Conference finals for the first time in franchise history, even
without injured superstar Kawhi Leonard.
A masked Leonard watched from the bench as the Clippers lost to
the Phoenix Suns in six games on Wednesday night.
“Man, we just had a group of guys that loved playing with each
other. Everyone was on the same page,” center Ivica Zubac said
The Clippers overcame 0-2 deficits in the first two rounds to
beat Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks and Donovan Mitchell and
the Utah Jazz. Leonard sprained his right knee in Game 4 against
the Jazz and didn't play again.
Zubac also injured his knee and was forced to sit out the final
two games against the Suns. The Clippers trailed that series 0-2
and 1-3 before closing to 3-2 and eventually running out of
Through the injuries, Paul George kept the team rolling,
producing a playoff career-high 41 points while facing elimination
on the road in Game 5 against the Suns. He averaged nearly 41
minutes a game, and scored at least 20 points in all 19 playoff
games, one of only four NBA players ever to do so.
“We squeezed everything out of one another,” George said, “and I
thought we got stronger and better as the season went on.”
The Clippers have the pieces in place to make an extended
postseason run again next year. Their first order of business
He has a player option worth $36 million for next season. If he
declines the option, he’ll become an unrestricted free agent and
could sign a contract that would pay him more annually. Leonard
convinced George to come to the Clippers in 2019 so they could play
together and be close to their Southern California hometowns.
“We’ve both grown, myself and Kawhi together. We really enjoy
being teammates, and we see what we can be,” George said. "One of
the commitments I made signing my contract was to show I’m here for
the long run and I’m committed to this team. Hopefully that weighs
on anybody’s decision.”
Serge Ibaka, whose season ended early due to back surgery, also
has a player option worth $9.7 million.
Reggie Jackson, Nicolas Batum, DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick
Patterson will each be unrestricted free agents. Amir Coffey is the
team's only restricted free agent.
Jackson shone during the playoffs. He averaged 17.8 points while
starting 17 of 19 postseason games, and shot 41% from 3-point
range, which should set him up for a bigger payday. The Clippers
must decide whether they're willing to pay more to retain the
“I can't predict the future, I have no idea what happens,”
Jackson said, “but this city, this organization, this fan base is
special. I’ll forever be a Clipper. I’m thankful for this
Jackson and George are longtime friends, and George said, "I’m
definitely going to try my hardest to recruit.”
Cousins turned back the clock, scoring 27 points in 25 combined
minutes replacing Zubac in the last two games. After being released
by Houston in February, the former All-Star signed a pair of 10-day
contracts with the Clippers and played 16 regular-season games.
Five of his seven playoff games were against the Suns.
Marcus Morris led the Clippers with 26 points while playing 42
minutes — one more than George — despite a sore knee in the last
“We know what we're capable of doing,” Morris said. “I’m excited
to see what the future holds.”
The Clippers didn't go away without drama.
Patrick Beverley got ejected after shoving former Clipper Chris
Paul in the back and knocking him down in the fourth quarter.
“Emotions got the best of me last night gang,” Beverley tweeted
Thursday in a message to Paul. “My bad wasn't meant for you.
Congrats on making it to the Finals. Best of Luck.”