“Pace yourself, it’s going at a good Clip”
Through the ups and downs of the 2018–19 NBA season (Will the Warriors get the 1 seed? Will they get the 2 seed? Oh my goodness they’re back in the 1 seed!) the Los Angeles Clippers and the Indiana Pacers have been very solid teams (shoutout Leigh Ellis, aka “Lee Lee”). In a time when basketball seems to orbit around star-players, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Indiana Pacers have been holding down spots in the playoffs without them for months before the NBA All-Star Break.
It’s no doubt, the Clippers and Pacers can both be found guilty of being pulled into star-players’ gravity. Before the All-Star Break, the Pacers had 2018-19 NBA All-Star guard selection Victor Oladipo, who was sidelined by a knee injury while having his most notable season of his career.
The Clippers had Tobias Harris, a borderline All-Star forward, before they made a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers, which notably included sharpshooting rookie Landry Shamet (aka Lanbo or One a Day) for the Clippers. The trade also meant that the Clippers were making space for free agency, surely hoping to attract a top-10 player in Kawhi Leonard (aka The Klaw) or, less likely, Kevin Durant (aka Durantula or Slim Reaper), maybe even Klay Thompson (aka Big Smokey or Killa Klay or The Electrician).
The Clippers have been in playoff contention all year without a star player and the Pacers have continued to play at a high level after the All-Star Break without Oladipo. The Clippers are going to make the playoffs, though they are currently in the 8 seed, with a team of role players working together to play extremely effective team ball.
The Clippers also have their own star. Not an All-Star, sure, but a player who could finish his career as the best sixth man of all time: Lou Williams (aka Sweet Lou or Lou-Will). With two Sixth Man of the Year awards under his belt and averaging 22.6 points in 2017–2018 and 20.3 points this year, Williams has been the clutch player the Clippers need to close out games.
You can tell he used to play with Allen Iverson (aka The Answer or A.I.). Williams is absolutely unstoppable in the in the fourth quarter, making clutch three-point shots and unstoppable floaters as often as any top-20 player. His mindset, balling off the bench, is exactly how the Clippers have gained success. Clippers players grind, and, more importantly, they know how to.
Beside Williams, the best examples of Clipper grind are Montrezl Harrell and Patrick Beverley, who might not always put up the big numbers Williams is, but are setting screens, finding lanes, and creating turnovers and stops. That hustle combined with impressive rookie performances of guards Landry Shamet and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the championship-level coaching in Doc Rivers has made the Clippers a thorn in an already stacked Western Conference.
In the Eastern Conference, the Pacers have had more success in seeding than the Clippers but have been similarly under the radar. They currently have home court playoff advantage with the 4 seed, but they were the 3 seed for the majority of the season up until now. The Pacers’ roster is not as notable as the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, or even the Boston Celtics, but they still manage to be a dark-horse for the Eastern Conference Finals.
And this all despite the lackluster signing of Tyreke Evans (aka Too Easy or Reke Havoc), who went from averaging 19.4 points per game to averaging 9.9 this year. In a surprising twist of events, Bojan Bogdanovic (aka Bogey) has averaged 21.9 points in Oladipo’s absence. Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner have been consistent as ever, leading the team in rebounds and blocks per game, respectively. Pacers point guard Darren Collison is averaging more assists after the All-Star Break than before—he’s finding his teammates more and it’s paying off.
Thaddeus Young has taken on an important leadership role, letting players who are having a good game play even at the cost of his own minutes. In a Pacers win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, March 16, Young refused to substitute into the game for Sabonis because he saw that the combined back-court of Turner and Sabonis was effective against the Thunder. In seeing the game and what it takes to win, Young sacrificed his own minutes in order to keep an effective lineup on the floor.
The commonality between both teams is that they have dispersed the gravity of their scoring and playmaking across different players, positions, and roleplayers. While each roster might not have a complete superstar package in any player, both the Pacers and the Clippers play smart team ball. Because each player does not have a complete superstar, players with specific skill sets are forced to fill in for each other, which means they either play as a team or lose. But this isn’t news to either team, which is why they’re winning.