clippers’-season-of-high-hopes-ends-with-a-disastrous-loss-to-nuggets-in-game-7

  • Montrezl Harrell #5 of the LA Clippers drives to the basket over Mason Plumlee #7 of the Denver Nuggets during the second quarter in Game Seven of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 15, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

  • Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers drives the ball against Monte Morris #11 of the Denver Nuggets during the fourth quarter in Game Seven of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 15, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

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  • Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) is blocked by LA Clippers forward JaMychal Green (4) as he tries to score during the first half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets drives the ball against JaMychal Green #4 of the LA Clippers and Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers during the second quarter in Game Seven of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 15, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

  • Jamal Murray #27 of the Denver Nuggets drives to the basket against Marcus Morris Sr. #31 of the LA Clippers during the second quarter in Game Seven of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 15, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

  • Gary Harris #14 of the Denver Nuggets drives to the net against Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers during the fourth quarter in Game Seven of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 15, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

  • Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers drives the ball against Gary Harris #14 of the Denver Nuggets during the second quarter in Game Seven of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 15, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

  • Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers drives to the basket against Paul Millsap #4 of the Denver Nuggets and Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets during the second quarter in Game Seven of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 15, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

  • JaMychal Green #4 of the LA Clippers misses a slam during the fourth quarter against the Denver Nuggets in Game Seven of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 15, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

  • JaMychal Green #4 of the LA Clippers and Montrezl Harrell #5 of the LA Clippers hug during the second quarter against the Denver Nuggets in Game Seven of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 15, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

  • Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers reacts during the fourth quarter against the Denver Nuggets in Game Seven of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 15, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

  • Jamal Murray #27 of the Denver Nuggets drives the ball against Lou Williams #23 of the LA Clippers during the second quarter in Game Seven of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 15, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

  • Patrick Beverley #21 of the LA Clippers and Jamal Murray #27 of the Denver Nuggets fight for the ball during the fourth quarter in Game Seven of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 15, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

  • Patrick Beverley #21 of the LA Clippers reacts during the second quarter against the Denver Nuggets in Game Seven of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 15, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

  • Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers of the LA Clippers dribbles the ball during the third quarter against the Denver Nuggets in Game Seven of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 15, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

  • Jamal Murray #27 of the Denver Nuggets drives the ball against Lou Williams #23 of the LA Clippers during the second quarter in Game Seven of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 15, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

  • Doc Rivers of the LA Clippers reacts during the first quarter against the Denver Nuggets in Game Seven of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 15, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

  • Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets drives the ball against Montrezl Harrell #5 of the LA Clippers during the first quarter in Game Seven of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 15, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

  • Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) shoots past LA Clippers forward JaMychal Green (4) during the first half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Torrey Craig #3 of the Denver Nuggets rebounds during the fourth quarter against the LA Clippers in Game Seven of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 15, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell (5) is fouled by Denver Nuggets forward Mason Plumlee (7) as he tries to score during the first half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) drives around Los AngelesClippers guard Patrick Beverley (21) during the first half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell (5) celebrates with teammates after he was fouled while trying to score against the Denver Nuggets during the first half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell (5) celebrates with teammates after he was fouled while trying to score against the Denver Nuggets during the first half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Michael Porter Jr. #1 of the Denver Nuggets passes the ball during the first quarter against the LA Clippers in Game Seven of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 15, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell (5) reacts after he thought he was fouled during the first half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game against the Denver Nuggets,Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Marcus Morris Sr. #31 of the LA Clippers falls to the court during the second quarter against the Denver Nuggets in Game Seven of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 15, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell (5) falls after he was fouled while trying to score against the Denver Nuggets during the first half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Mason Plumlee #7 of the Denver Nuggets reacts to a call during the fourth quarter against the LA Clippers in Game Seven of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 15, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

  • Patrick Beverley #21 of the LA Clippers passes the ball during the first quarter against the Denver Nuggets in Game Seven of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 15, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

  • Montrezl Harrell #5 of the LA Clippers drives to the basket against Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets during the third quarter in Game Seven of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 15, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

  • Jamal Murray #27 of the Denver Nuggets drives the ball against Montrezl Harrell #5 of the LA Clippers during the fourth quarter in Game Seven of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 15, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

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Huh.

After all the hoopla, the historically high expectations, the appetizing promise of an all-L.A. showdown … the Clippers go down in the second round?

It happened. If you’re a Clippers fan, you might say it happens.

A young Denver squad walloped the win-now Clippers 104-89 on Tuesday in Game 7 of their Western Conference semifinals series, the Nuggets becoming the first team in NBA history to rally twice in the same postseason from 3-1 series deficits and doing it with gusto.

The second-seeded Clippers again couldn’t solve Nikola Jokic, the lumbering 7-foot Serbian center who picked the Clippers apart Tuesday with a clutch triple-double: 22 points, 22 rebounds and 13 assists.

His counterpart Jamal Murray — who’d been relatively quiet, averaging 19.7 points so far in the series after exploding for 31.6 points per game in the first round — got hot, leading his team with 40 points on 15-for-26 shooting.

Meanwhile, Denver tamed the Clippers’ star tandem of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, who finished with 14 and 10 points apiece, on a combined 10-for-38 shooting. As a team, the Clippers shot just 34 for 90 (37.8%), and made only 6 of 22 attempts (27.3%) with the season on the line in the fourth quarter, when they were outscored 22-15.

The eighth second-round exit in Clippers history was all the more deflating because the Clippers held leads of 16 and 19 points before blowing closeout opportunities in Games 5 and 6.

It wasn’t at all what team owner Steve Ballmer envisioned last summer when his team added Leonard and George, a pair of Southern California-raised stars to a gritty overachieving core.

The Clippers wooed Leonard, a two-time NBA Finals MVP, away from the traditional suitors in a frenzied free agency and then paired him — per his request — with George, in a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder. To make it happen, L.A. traded away Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari and a record haul of draft picks: the first-round draft picks in 2022, 2024 and 2026, along with two first-round choices via Miami (2021 and 2023), in addition to OKC’s right to swap first-round picks in 2023 and 2025.

When he introduced Leonard and George at a press conference/pep rally at the Green Meadows Recreation Center gymnasium in South L.A., Ballmer raved: “We got the guys who I think will be perfect to put together with Paul and Kawhi to really give us a chance to do the only real thing that we want to do.

“Not being No. 2, No. 4, we’re only there for one reason, we wanna win it all.”

Better luck next season?

Whenever and however the NBA opts to return to the court, the pressure will be only more pronounced on the Kawhi-and-PG Clippers: Leonard, 29, signed a three-year, $103 million maximum contract with a player option in the third season, a two-plus-one deal that aligns his contract with that of George, 30, and makes it possible for both players to enter free agency again in 2021.

More to come on this story.

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By Arlene Huff

Arlene Huff is the founding member of Golden State Online. Before that She was a general assignment reporter. A native Californian, she graduated from the University of California with a degree in medical anthropology and global health. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

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