If there’s an overarching message the L.A. Clippers have tried to convey to the public this season, individually and as an organization, it might be something like: “We don’t care what you think.”
Choking on a 3-1 series lead to the Nuggets last season? Firing championship coach Doc Rivers? It’s a new season and a new approach, the Clippers said.
Tanking to avoid the Lakers and play the Mavericks? It was rest not tanking, dammit.
Oh and btw…we don’t care what you think!
It’s been a mantra the Clippers have stood by all year. And never more than after beginning the 2021 NBA Playoffs with two home losses to the Mavericks before leveling the series with two impressive wins in Dallas, particularly in Game 4 when they held the Mavs to 81 points in a 25-point throttling.
Not surprisingly, the four-game roller coaster ride has given birth to a bonfire of hot-takes, including from professional hot-takers Charles Barkley and Stephen A. Smith.
Barkley and Smith Are in Agreement, Finally
At the moment, heading into Wednesday’s Game 5 in Los Angeles, both Barkley and Smith believe the Mavericks are done for. Only a few days ago, though, Smith in particular was singing (screaming) a much different tune.
“You getting you’re ass kicked!” Smith told Clipper Nation from his pulpit at ESPN’s First Take, following a Game 2 in which Luka Doncic scored 39 points, just two days after a triple-double in Game 1. “Luka Doncic is the best player in this series. Period. 22-years-old, second time in the playoffs, and bustin’ their living you-know-what!”
Smith’s boisterous praise of Doncic was accompanied by an equally loud critique of Kawhi Leonard, who he slammed for not bringing championship-caliber leadership since his arrival from Toronto in 2019.
“I know what Kawhi Leonard did in the first half, I understand he ended the game with 41,” raged Smith. “But when it really really counted, where the hell was he? Couldn’t be found. But you could find Luka! Kawhi Leonard is the one with the crown dangling from his mirror. Kawhi Leonard was the one with the New Balance commercials in his convertible. Kawhi Leonard was the one who said ‘Yo, King James, there’s a new king in town.’”
For his part, Barkley predicted that the Clippers would advance — in a sweep — before the series began, and dropping the first two games did nothing to move him off that position.
In fact, given L.A.’s recent dominance and Dallas’ oversized reliance on Doncic, who struggled with a neck strain in Game 4 and couldn’t stave off an energized Clippers squad in Game 3, Barkley has never been more certain of the Mavericks’ demise.
“The Mavs are in trouble,” Barkley, a former 11-time All-NBA selection, said from the TNT studio during halftime Sunday night. “The Mavs are not going to win another game. They’re going to lose four straight.
“We’ve been saying all year we think they rely too much on Luka,” Barkley continued. “They’ll be having a fast break and they’ll slow it down and wait for Luka to come down.” Apart from Doncic’s 9-for-24 performance, the rest of the Mavericks shot a miserable 33.8% from the floor in Game 4, including 17.3% from three.
The next morning, Barkley’s reasoning made sense to Smith, who seemed genuinely contrite following another incredible display from Leonard. The two-time Finals MVP has averaged 32.5 points and nine rebounds on 75.0% shooting over the last two games.
Smith, finally using his inside voice, said:
Charles Barkley is right. I don’t think the Dallas Mavericks are winning another game this series. And I went from being scared that the Clippers were going to be swept to saying Dallas Mavericks ain’t gonna win another game this series. Here’s why: Kawhi has looked sensational over the last two games. And he did something that I wanted him to do which he called on the team to clamp down, be better defensively, spoke up. That’s a good thing, galvanizing. Remember, I never complained about his numbers, never complained about his ability, it’s that ability to lead. Which LeBron and others have done but I thought he was sorely lacking. Still got something to prove in that regard, but it is what it is.
‘I Don’t Read Twitter, or Have Twitter, or InstaTwit’
Not that Leonard, or any of the Clippers for that matter, likely care what Barkley and Smith think. All season they’ve made it clear that they couldn’t care less about chatter from the press and social media.
A few weeks ago, Lue scolded reporters for questioning his resting of the starters in L.A.’s final two regular-season games, both of which they lost. Lue was essentially accused of tanking to avoid LeBron James and the Lakers, in favor of the Mavericks.
“I don’t give a damn what anybody else thinks on the outside, ’cause I don’t listen to that anyways,” Lue said when asked about the tanking rumors, via The Athletic. “At the end of the day, I am the coach of the team, we decided to go with health over anything else, we finally got our team healthy and that’s what we focused on. … (Health is) the most important thing to me, so whatever people say on the outside I don’t care.
“I don’t read Twitter, or have Twitter, or InstaTwit, or all that, I don’t care about all that. I’m my own man, I do what I want to do. That’s how I live my life.”
And even when the Clippers went down 0-2 to the Mavericks, not one guy admitted to being in any sort of panic mode, not even Paul George, who has endured a seemingly endless amount of talk about the pressure he’s facing this year to reverse past postseason failures.
“It’s a competition. We got to rise to the occasion,” said George. “The fact of the matter is if we don’t, we’re done for. But it’s no level of concern.”