Converse Firsts: Changing California Tide
Clippers win first postseason series since moving from Buffalo
By Brad Friedman
The city of L.A. has seen plenty of playoff glory. Nine championship rings, in fact.
But between the two franchises that reside there, only the Lakers have been responsible for the celebrations of champagne and confetti. In fact, the Clippers' recent 4-1 series victory over Denver in the First Round of the 2006 NBA Playoffs represents the franchise's first postseason series win since the organization left Buffalo in 1978.
How'd they do it? Call it the Clippers' West Coast Defense. Only once during the series did Denver break the 90-point barrier – Game 3, the Nuggets' lone win. This from a Denver team that led the NBA in fast break points (20.2 ppg) and ranked fifth in the NBA in scoring (100.3), third in assists (23.4 apg) and eighth in field goal percentage (.461) during the regular season.
"We are proud of what we have done," Clippers All-Star forward Elton Brand said. "But we have loftier goals so we have to stay focused. This is a great feeling. I might not appreciate it until we start the second round, but it (has) been 30 years in the making. The fans really supported us so it feels good. We're trying to start our own tradition and win some more playoff games."
The Clippers last postseason series triumph came in 1976, when -- known as the Buffalo Braves -- they defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 2-1 in the First Round. The franchise would play two more seasons in New York before relocating to San Diego in 1978, when they also adopted their "Clippers" name. However, in six seasons in San Diego, the club failed to ever make the playoffs.
In 1984, the Clippers opted to move to their current home of Los Angeles, and until now, their playoff history in that city was limited to three first round exits: against the Jazz in '92 (2-3); the Rockets in '93 (2-3); and the Jazz again in '97 (0-3).
Part of the reason the outlook has changed for the franchise is the continuity in core personnel L.A. has boasted in recent years. Add to that key offseason acquistions last summer in Sam Cassell and Cuttino Mobley, owners of a combined 117 postseason game appearances, and the Clippers this season were able to finish second in the Pacific Division -- ahead of the Lakers for the second year in a row.
Said Brand about the Clippers' new starting backcourt: "They're win-tested. They've played so many games. They never get too high or too low. They don't get upset because they understand the game. They understand what a winning season is. They definitely bring that to our team."
Added center Chris Kaman, a member of the Clippers since 2003: "The core group has been playing together for the last three years. We’re slowing picking up what (coach Mike) Dunleavy’s philosophies and principles are more and more. We’re executing them better than we have."
During the regular season, those principles translated into the Clippers ranking first in the NBA in blocks per game (6.14 bpg), second in rebounding (43.03 rpg) and 12th in opponents' points per game (95.9 ppg). Against the Nuggets in the First Round, the Clipper "D" limited Denver to 87.4 points per game scoring on 38.0 percent shooting.
"I feel like this team was made for the playoffs," Dunleavy said. "We can match up with anybody and we can play any way. We can go big or we can go small. We can play fast and we can play slow. Whoever our opponent is, we can match up and defend them."
Given that Dunleavy and the Clippers' centerpieces haven't been with the franchise nearly as long as the team's playoff draught was, it's evident that they don't feel shackled by the teams' past
"I don't know anything about it," Dunleavy said.
They sure aren't playing like they do, either.