This was the second consecutive series in which the Nuggets needed a comeback to advance in the playoffs. In their first-round matchup, they completed the 3-1 comeback against Utah Jazz.
However, the magnitude of this comeback is drastically different. The Clippers were the favorites to win this year’s NBA Finals.
Despite having championship expectations, the Clippers fell short by choking the series away. This type of collapse is sadly familiar to Oklahoma City Thunder fans.
In 2015, in the western conference finals, the Thunder allowed the Golden State Warriors to come back from three games to one.
Let’s compare the two collapses of two western conference teams who had the talent to warrant championship expectations but fell short.
- Star power duo
Great superstar duos led both the 2020 Clippers and 2015 Thunder. For the Clippers, it was the wing duo of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. Both are known for being great two way players.
Meanwhile, for the 2015 Thunder, they were led by an elite scorer in Kevin Durant and an extremely athletic point guard in Russell Westbrook. The two together were able to resurrect the Thunder franchise when they moved to Oklahoma City.
Unfortunately, these superstar duos underperforming when it mattered most is what led to their early playoff exits.
In Game 7, the Clippers’ superstar duo combined for only 24 points. Also, they shot a combined 10-of-38 from the field, which is a woeful 26%. Lastly, the superstar duo went scoreless in the fourth quarter on a combined 11 shot attempts.
Oklahoma City fans are familiar with poor playoff performances from George in elimination games. In a 2017 elimination Game 6 against the Jazz, when George was on the Thunder, he shot 2-of-16 from the field.
For the Thunder’s superstar duo, it was both games six and seven of the 2016 Western Conference Finals in which they came up small.
Up to 7 points with under six minutes to go, Durant and Westbrook shortly crumbled afterward. The duo didn’t score in the last four minutes of the game and had six turnovers combined.
Then in game seven, Oklahoma City only scored 88 points when they averaged 110 per game, which ranked second in the regular season. It didn’t help that Westbrook shot 7-of-21 in game seven himself.
- Who they lose to and where they loss
Although there is no excuse for allowing a comeback from down three games to one, at least the Thunder faced stiffer competition. Oklahoma City was in the western conference finals when they lost. Not to mention, the loss to a Warriors team that set the record for regular-season wins with 73 that season.
Yet, the Clippers lost in only the second of the playoffs, continuing the years of never having a conference finals appearance. Also, unlike the Thunder heading into their series, the Clippers were favorites to win the series.
Oklahoma City lost to the reigning NBA champions while the Clippers lost to a Denver team, where nobody on the roster has made the NBA Finals. While the Thunder were up to 3-1, it was expected for the Clippers to do that and advance past Denver.
- The ensuing offseason
The most significant differences between the 2015 Thunder collapse and the 2020 Clippers collapse is what was to follow. Although the offseason hasn’t started for the Clippers yet, we don’t expect any significant change to their roster next season. Meanwhile, the collapse of the 2015 Thunder changed the future of the NBA.
Durant, the Thunder’s best player, left them in free agency to join the Warriors and created possibly the best team of all time. With Durant, the Warriors formed a dynasty and won two of the next three championships.
With Durant absent in 2016, Westbrook went on a historic season and averaged a triple-double en route to winning league MVP. But Westbrook still didn’t achieve postseason success, even when GM Sam Presti paired him with George for two seasons.
Eventually, both Westbrook and George were traded off the Thunder, and Oklahoma City has their current roster. A roster led by Chris Paul and a bunch of young emerging players.
Without the collapse from the Thunder in 2015, Westbrook may not have an MVP award, George and Paul are never members of the Thunder, and Durant possibly leads the Thunder to an NBA title in 2015.