Ashley Landis/Associated Press
Los Angeles Clippers superstar Kawhi Leonard said Tuesday the team must play smarter basketball in the future after blowing a 3-1 series lead to the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semifinals.
“That’s when it comes to the team chemistry, knowing what we should run to get the ball in spots or just if someone’s getting doubled or they’re packing the paint…get smarter as a team,” Leonard told reporters. “Basketball IQ got to get better.”
The Clippers were outscored by a combined 34 points over the final three games of the series to get eliminated from the 2020 NBA playoffs.
L.A. cruised through the regular season with a 49-23 record to finish second in the West. It never appeared dominant in the playoffs, though. The Dallas Mavericks pushed the Clips to six games in the opening round and the Nuggets stormed back to win the series in convincing fashion.
“I think a lot of the issues that we ran into, talent bailed us out,” Clippers guard Lou Williams said. “Chemistry it didn’t. In this series, it failed us.”
Forward Paul George added: “You know, we can only get better the longer we stay together and the more we’re around each other. More chemistry for [the] group, the better. I think that’s really the tale of the tape of this season. We just didn’t have enough time together.”
Three of the Clippers’ top four scorers in the playoffs weren’t on the roster when last offseason began. They added Leonard and George as part of a blockbuster summer and then acquired Marcus Morris from the New York Knicks just before the trade deadline in February.
Building a rapport after such a major overhaul takes time and, as Williams alluded, talent can overshadow problems during the regular season. But that crutch fades away in the postseason, especially in the loaded Western Conference with so many high-end teams.
The chemistry issues that lingered through the regular season finally caught up with the Clippers during the latter stages of the Nuggets series, and to Denver’s credit, it took full advantage.
Meanwhile, it’s back to the drawing board for L.A. It features a couple key unrestricted free agents in Morris and Montrezl Harrell, which will create a frontcourt void that must be filled, but otherwise, the team will return most of its core, led by Leonard and George.
The talent is there for the Clippers to chase down the franchise’s first championship. The last three games showed it takes more than raw skill to raise the Larry O’Brien Trophy, though.