CLOSE Families are reuniting inside the NBA bubble. Watch these sweet moments unfold. USA TODAY Less than 24 h...
Families are reuniting inside the NBA bubble. Watch these sweet moments unfold.
Less than 24 hours after witnessing the wreckage, Reggie Miller and Chris Webber still struggled to process what they had seen. The former NBA stars, now TNT analysts, openly wondered whether the unthinkable had actually happened.
It had. After acquiring two star players last summer in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the Los Angeles Clippers squandered a 3-1 series lead in a decisive Game 7 on Tuesday against the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semifinals.
So in a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon, Miller and Webber had plenty to say. They wondered whether the Nuggets could upset the LA Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, beginning with Game 1 on Friday (9 pm ET, TNT). And they talked about other NBA topics, including what it will take for the Milwaukee Bucks to keep star Giannis Antetokounmpo. Below is a portion of that Q&A, edited for space and clarity.
Why did Clippers collapse?
Miller: “The Clippers’ curse is real. I was led astray. I was hoodwinked. I’ve been bamboozled. I was led to believe the Clippers. Their whole marketing scheme was to deface the Los Angeles Lakers and their history. That’s all they wanted. ‘New sheriff in town.’ ‘We’re taking over LA.’ They damn near almost did it by fooling us all. They overlooked everyone else because their one focus was on LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers. That’s all they ever wanted to do. They were one game away from doing it. A total collapse.
“They overlooked the Nuggets after being up 3-1. Now all of a sudden, everyone is coming out and saying there were chemistry problems. Why didn’t we know about any of these chemistry problems before? All of a sudden when you’re leaving the bubble, there are chemistry problems now. Come on, man. Stop it. The better team won that series.”
Webber: “I definitely thought the Clippers had it. It’s funny. The Clippers were Hollywood. I thought they wouldn’t be the team that was Hollywood. I thought they would come with that effort every night. Give Denver credit. To come back and beat this team after being down 3-1, and have these six elimination games, it’s special what they did.”
Are Clippers’ ‘chemistry issues’ legit?
Webber: “When I hear that, there’s either two things. You’re either sending shots at each other in the locker room. Or you’re sending shots at the leader because he didn’t allow chemistry. Those are the only two ways I can look at it. I was surprised with seeing that. I thought they were going to win in the Western Conference Finals… Instead of them taking ownership and giving credit at the end of the series, to put it on that is surprising.”
Miller: “I want names. Don’t be cryptic, Paul George. I want names. If they are talking about Doc Rivers, here’s the problem. If you get rid of Doc Rivers, who are you going to bring in other than Doc? I know he’s been down this road before being up 3-1, but who are you going to bring in that’s better than Doc? Paul George needs to start looking at himself. This team was built to win this year. They pushed all of their chips to the middle of the table. So you can’t tell me it’s all about chemistry.”
Breaking down Lakers-Nuggets series
Miller: “It’s not foregone the Lakers are going to win this. I know everyone is disappointed. I am that they’re not going to see the battle of LA. But don’t go to sleep on the Denver Nuggets. Do not do it! …. I’m still taking the Lakers in this series. But there’s something special happening in Mile High. Game 1 won’t tell me a lot because the Nuggets will be coming off riding that emotional high coming off back-to-back Game 7’s. We thought after that Clippers Game 1 win it was over.
“… On paper, everyone is saying the Lakers. So go out and be relaxed and play free. There is no pressure now. Around the league, guys have taken notice. The Nuggets came to the bubble and didn’t even have enough players to play five-on-five. Everyone had COVID or was hurt. If people want to talk about chemistry and that they weren’t all together, this was a team that had eight or nine guys as they got to Orlando and found a way. That’s chemistry. That’s bonding. In terms of street cred and the players, this is what we call balling.”
“I would caution the only thing besides X’s and O’s I would worry about is that they’re playing with house money. If they come into Game 1 as if they’re down, if they have that type of attack, I caution they’ve been in so many Game 7’s and have played so hard that if they don’t come in and take it seriously out of the gate, LeBron and those guys are more focused than ever with understanding what just happened in the last series.”
How do Bucks keep Giannis?
Webber: “You have to improve the roster to keep Giannis. It’s easier to stay in small markets right now because of social media bringing the world together. I don’t think there is that pressure [to leave for a big market]. But Giannis can’t do it by himself…
“If the Bucks have a sense of urgency with bringing players in and working with them, there is a great chance that he stays. But I think as an organization it is on you. You have to put it out there whether he stays or not. You have to get players he wants to play around.”
Miller: “The Bucks are built for the regular season. They are not built for the playoffs. In regular-season basketball, you are playing team after team after team. They scout a team and have a shootaround and prepare for five or seven of their top plays and then will just go out and play… Playoff basketball, there’s more film involved and more prep. You take away those best five to seven plays, now what do you got?
“I read the comments that Giannis met with the owners, and they are willing to go into the luxury tax. Well, that’s what it’s going to take. They need key players like a Chris Paul. They’re like-minded. Chris Paul is a lot like Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard. You need dogs because it’s possession-by-possession games in playoff basketball. In the regular season, it’s a track meet. In the playoffs, it’s about X’s and O’s…
“If they’re willing to go in the luxury tax, which it’s going to take, get like-minded guys that can play playoff basketball. Then Giannis stays and signs the super max. You’re in the luxury tax. But you’re playing for championships each and every year.”