The end of an era

The captain is gone.

The final chapter of the Chris Paul era in Los Angeles has been penned.

The curtains have been closed and Lob City is no more.

A team with so much potential, that will ultimately be remembered for a few flashy dunks, a handful of television commercials and a laughable tally of technical fouls.

This may be one of the greatest ‘what if?’ teams in NBA history. A future Hall of Fame point guard, a young, dynamic power forward who could jump out of the gym and a defensive anchor protecting the rim.

Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. A formidable core the envy of the league, primed for a run at that elusive championship.

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Since Chris Paul controversially joined the team for the 2011-12 season, the Clippers have notched 313 wins.

Only two other teams have a better win-loss record over that six-year span. They just happen to be the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs.

In that same time-period, the Spurs have reached two NBA Finals and popped the champagne bottles once, with a 4-1 crushing of the Miami Heat in the 2013 NBA Finals.

The Golden State Warriors have made three NBA Finals and sit on the verge of a dynasty, with two rings (2015 and 2017) in tow.

Meanwhile, the Clippers have failed to advance past the second round of the playoffs for sixth straight seasons with Paul at the helm.

The franchise has never reached the Western Conference Finals.

That alone should cast a pall over the legacy of LA’s little brother, but unfortunately for Doc Rivers men, it only gets worse.

In the 2014 playoffs, the Clippers defeated the Warriors in seven games, before holding a 101-88 lead against the Thunder in Game 5. With four minutes to play. And they lost.

Clippers fans may cry foul about some questionable umpiring, but the Clippers made their own mess and the Thunder went on to take a 3-2 series lead and advance to the Conference Finals in six games.

In 2015, the Clippers advanced to the second round after an incredible series against the San Antonio Spurs. Chris Paul battled through an injured hamstring to hit the game-winning shot over Tim Duncan as the confetti fell from Staples Centre.

With Chris Paul sidelined, the Clippers still managed to split the first two games against Houston and then cruised to a commanding 3-1 lead with Chris Paul back in charge.

To clarify on commanding, they won Game 3 by 25 points and Game 4 by 33 points. They stood just 48 minutes away from the franchise’s first ever Conference Finals appearance.

After falling in Game 5, the Clippers had a chance to re-group on their home floor for Game 6. The Clippers dominated from the outset and opened up a 19-point lead in the second half. They entered the fourth quarter with a 92-79 lead.

Enter Josh Smith and Corey Brewer. Two slightly washed up veterans who were below 30% shooters from 3-point land in their career. Yet in the last quarter they went video game mode and hit just about every shot they took from beyond the arc.

The pair combined for 29 points in the last quarter. Houston combined for 40 points in the last quarter.

In case you’re wondering, the Clippers lost. Again.

They shot just 4-22 from the field in the final quarter. After a Chris Paul lay-up with 6:47 left on the clock, they missed every single field goal attempt until a pointless buzzer beater as time expired.

They would have faced a Golden State team, minus Kevin Durant, who was pushed to six games by Memphis in the semi-finals and would need six games to beat a Cleveland team with no Kevin Love or Kyrie Irving.

No-one is claiming they would have definitely beaten the Warriors. But they would have given them a run for their money, and had they advanced they would have faced a wounded Cleveland.

What could have been.

In 2016, the Clippers faced the Portland Trailblazers in the first round. Chris Paul broke his hand. Blake Griffin re-injured his quad. In the same game. In the same half. Season over.

In 2017, the Clippers faced the Utah Jazz in the first round. Blake Griffin suffered a plantar plate injury to his right toe. Season over. Lob City over.

Unfortunately for the Clippers this chapter doesn’t have a happy ending.

With Chris Paul walking to the Houston Rockets, the Clippers championship window has been closed shut.

Re-signing Blake Griffin and adding quality players such as Danilo Gallinari, Lou Williams and Patrick Beverly provides a glimmer of hope for the future, but for now it does little to compensate for Paul’s loss.

However, what Chris Paul and the Lob City era has done for this franchise cannot be understated.

Before Chris Paul’s arrival the Clippers were the laughing stock of the NBA. They were irrelevant, completely overshadowed in a crowded market by their big brother, the LA Lakers.

Over the past six years the Lob city era, with Paul at the helm, has brought the Clippers out into the spotlight.

They will never be the Lakers. They will always be subject to the little brother jokes. But they will also never be irrelevant or forgotten again.

The Clippers may have taken a few steps backwards this off-season, but they have taken too many steps forward in the past six years to lose hope.

The championship window may be shut for now, but thanks to the Chris Paul and the Lob City era, the groundwork is laid for future success.

Now it’s up to the new era of Clippers to pen their chapter, hopefully one that involves a few more playoff wins and maybe even a ring or two.

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