It probably doesn’t need to be said, but the national media has been quite critical of the Clippers since last year’s playoff collapse at the hands of the Denver Nuggets in the second round. One of the many reasons to which writers, pundits and talking heads point when dissecting why such a favored and talented squad fell short in the bubble is the lack of continuity and camaraderie amongst this Clippers squad.
“Load management, lack of team chemistry, team not being together, acting like premadonnas, it all came back to bite them in the you-know-what,” Stephen A. Smith said on First Take the morning after the Clippers fell in game 7.
Smith is more of a performer than an analyst at this point, but there might be some merit to this argument. For what it’s worth, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard did not play as many games together as LeBron James and Anthony Davis did in their first respective years in Los Angeles. Leonard never played in back-to-backs, and George missed time recovering from shoulder surgery. The “premadonna” aspect is a bit more subjective, but the basic idea that shared on-court experience builds team chemistry is sound and has been proven time and again throughout league history.
Following their 116-112 victory over the Western-conference-leading Utah Jazz on Friday night, when asked about his connection with Leonard, George made it a point to assure the media and fans that this chemistry does exist, and it’s stronger than it’s ever been.
As an outside observer, it does appear that this camaraderie is more palpable than last season. While George and Leonard have both missed time, they seem to better understand each other’s tendencies, and the tendencies of the entire team, when both are on the court. For one thing, both stars are averaging career-highs in assists (5.4 for George, five for Leonard). It sounds simplistic, but there’s no better indicator of chemistry than a willingness to pass one’s teammates the ball. But it’s comments like these that give fans hope that the two stars are now aligned on a mental level as well.
The “big picture” of which George speaks is obviously referring to an NBA championship. Regardless of what he said after last year’s loss, a title has always been the goal for this Clippers squad. George and Leonard orchestrated the 2019 offseason with the intention of joining forces in LA and winning at the highest level. If nothing else, they are united in a shared mission, along with the rest of their veteran roster. They’re on track so far, and in terms of pure, objective talent, they’re as stacked as any roster in the league.
All George and Leonard can do is talk at this point (George will probably end up doing the majority of the talking). As passionate and genuine as he sounds, he won’t be able to change the minds of the Stephen A. Smiths of the world until LA faces their demons in the postseason. Until that point, the Clippers’ collective eyes will be set on the bigger picture.