LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Clippers' season didn't end so much with a whimper as it did a long limp down the Staples Center corridor by Chris Paul, holding his son's hand on the way to his car.
It wasn't the way Paul wanted his first season in Los Angeles season to end. It certainly wasn't the way Lob City was supposed to close up shop for the summer after being the most ballyhooed municipality in Southern California outside of Hollywood.
But like most hastily assembled productions in this town, it had a shelf life. These Clippers were like a wildly entertaining action movie with a couple of big headliners. They were worth the price of admission but certainly weren't in line to win any awards.
Paul, however, didn't come to Los Angeles to have his face plastered on buildings and billboards and be the inspiration for one of the most played-out nicknames in team history ("Lob City"). He came to win championships.
Sure, Paul initially figured "coming to Los Angeles" back in December meant the Lakers but he quickly embraced the role of reviving the once-morbid Clippers franchise the moment he walked into the team's training facility in Playa Vista.
"I'm crazy competitive," Paul said at his introductory news conference. "I think that's what makes me the player that I am. I just have to compete, so knowing that they never won a championship here I wanted to be a part of something like that. I want to see those Clippers T-shirts around town. I want to see everybody filing into Staples Center to see us play and at the end of the day I want to win here."
Except for the whole winning a championship thing, Paul accomplished much of what he set out to do in his first season in Los Angeles. The image of 19,060 fans at Staples Center wearing red shirts at Clippers playoff games seemed unattainable before his arrival, and was for the previous six seasons. Paul not only led the Clippers to their second playoff series win since 1976, but he helped them achieve their highest regular-season winning percentage ever.
"We had a good season but I think it's a good sign for our team that there are no moral victories," Paul said after the game. "It's not like we made it to the playoffs and its all good and well. We feel like we should have still been playing. We have to get better and there's no question we're going to get to work."
As much as Paul would still like to be playing, he knows this Clippers season turned out about as successful as it could have possibly been. They rode this strange, lockout-condensed season for as long as they possibly could. No one in their right mind thought the Clippers were better than the Oklahoma City Thunder or the San Antonio Spurs, at least not in these playoffs. This was a learning process for the Clippers and no amount of CliffsNotes or all-nighters were going to allow them to take a shortcut past what those teams, especially the Spurs, have slowly built over time.
In many ways, a sweep at the end by the Spurs was the best crash course this team could have gotten. It's the kind of baptism under fire the Lakers got from the Utah Jazz and the Spurs back in the late 1990s before Phil Jackson was hired. Those teams were wildly talented and unbelievably exciting but when faced with a consistent team running an organized system they fell apart.
The Clippers didn't just get swept by any team on Sunday. They got swept by one of the hottest teams the league has seen in a while. They got swept by a team that has won 18 straight games by an average of margin of nearly 16 points per game.
None of that mattered to the Clippers players after the game as they exited Staples Center, especially not for Paul, who suffered a strained right hip flexor against the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round and was never really himself against the Spurs. Despite limping out of the arena after the game, he refused to use the injury as an excuse for his performance or his turnover and missed shot at the end of the game.
For a team that came into the playoffs with three starters with no postseason experience, the Clippers essentially ordered the sample platter during their first go-around and got a taste of the extreme highs and lows of the playoffs over their one-month run. They experienced a seven-game series, won a Game 7 on the road, got swept, completed the greatest comeback in postseason history and lost the biggest first-quarter lead in playoff history. The next step for Paul and the Clippers is to get past the second round for the first time in his career and the Clippers franchise.
"We're going to come back next season ready to go," Paul said. "I've never been one of those people to that believe you have to have stepping stones and all that stuff to get to the next level but I think it's great that our team got a little taste of the playoffs and I think coming into camp next year we're going to expect more, a lot more. It's going to be a big summer for a lot of us."