You Cannot Call Kawhi a Top-5 Player in the League After This

The Clippers just closed out the top-seeded Utah Jazz in six games to advance to the first-ever conference finals in Clippers franchise history.

They celebrated like they just won the NBA championship, but hey, that’s okay. It was an incredible win. The Jazz were up as much as 25 in the second half but the Clips won by 12.

That’s just ridiculous. It was an absolutely electric atmosphere in that building as the Clippers were mounting their comeback.

The Clippers outscored the Jazz 81-47 in the second half. In terms of field goals in the second half, the Jazz were 15-39 from the floor, the Clippers were 30-42.

For the game, the Clippers shot a ridiculous 51.2% from three. When even Patrick Beverley is hitting threes (3-4 including the dagger late), Utah had to know they were cooked.

Paul George had a decent game, 28 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists in 46 minutes played, although on 10-24 shooting.

The real sparks for the Clippers were Terrance Mann and Reggie Jackson.

Terrance Mann dropped 39 in the game on 15-21 shooting, 7-10 from three. 39. ESPN had a graphic that showed he never even scored more than 30 in college. And he goes for 39 in the biggest game of his life.

Terrance Mann. 39 points. I don’t even know what to say. Hats off.

And Reggie Jackson, who has been scorching hot these playoffs, had 27 on 10-16 shooting. He was kissing shots high off the glass over Rudy Gobert–this dude had 27 tonight, 22 in game 5, 17 in game 3 and 29 in game 2. Reggie Jackson has been going off in these playoffs.

This is the reality of the NBA in 2021: because almost every team in the league is heavily reliant on the three ball, these kinds of massive swings can and do happen a lot. Utah was on fire from three in the first half and went into the break up 72-50. Then they got cold, and the Clippers got hot in the second half.

If one team’s shots are falling, they’re off to the races. But if they stop hitting their threes and the other team starts hitting theirs, 20+ point leads get erased in the blink of an eye. The Clippers went on a 17-0 run in the third quarter, for instance.

(It also helped that the Clippers scored 31 points off the Jazz’s turnovers while the Jazz only got 4 points off the Clippers’ turnovers but still).

And the Clippers did all this without Kawhi Leonard. The series was tied 2-2 when he went down, but his teammates were able to continue the momentum (remember, the Clippers were down 0-2 in this series at one point) and close out the series in 6.

Utah was the #1 seed in the West and had the best record in the NBA. That’s what’s so crazy about this. It’s not like the Jazz were some slouches or a lower-seeded team that the Clippers could easily dispatch.

Sure, Mike Conley was clearly not healthy for Utah. He played 25 minutes and only had 5 points on 1-8 shooting. He probably shouldn’t have played, but he did anyway because it was an elimination game.

And I don’t think Donovan Mitchell was fully healthy for most of this series, either.

But here’s the thing: Mitchell finished with 39 points and was 9-15 from three tonight. You can’t really ask for much more out of him.

And the Jazz were still able to go up 2-0 without Mike Conley. So we can’t say injuries were to blame here.

The Clippers were just better, even without Kawhi.

And that’s why I say you cannot call Kawhi a top-5 player in the league after this.

His team is good enough to beat the #1 seed in the whole NBA without him.

This is why I always say Kawhi is the luckiest player in NBA history. You think LeBron’s team could win two playoff games without him? In the six games of the first round series against Phoenix this year, the Lakers were -49 when LeBron wasn’t on the court. Minus forty-nine.

You think Giannis’ team could win games against great teams in the playoffs without him? Not a chance. They’re -43 with Giannis off the court just in this series against the Nets.

Without Steph Curry, the Warriors might not even win 20 games. Actually, we saw it last year: they won 15 games when Steph missed most of the year.

The Mavericks would be horrible without Luka. They were -43 when he wasn’t on the court in the seven-game series against the Clippers in round one. If Dallas didn’t have Luka, they’d be drafting in the top-3. There was a game in the first round where the Mavericks could barely even make a field goal without Luka–he scored or assisted on 31 of their 37 total field goals in the game.

KD is a different story because he plays on a super team (the Nets are +42 with KD on the bench during this postseason), but we just saw him put together one of the greatest playoff performances of all-time when Kyrie went down and Harden was playing at like 15% effectiveness.

Kawhi? His team has been +59 with him on the bench in these playoffs. That includes the two games Kawhi has missed. This means the Clippers, who have a +87 point differential over 13 games in this postseason, are outscoring their opponents by less when Kawhi is on the floor vs. when he’s off it. They’re +59 with him off the court, +28 with him on the court. That is insane.

Even if you take away the two games that the Clippers just full-on won without Kawhi, they’re still +39 with him off the court. But you shouldn’t take away these past two games because that’s the whole point here: the Clippers are good enough to win playoff games against a legit team without Kawhi Leonard.

Kawhi is a good player. The Clippers are a good team. These are both true statements.

But the Clippers are not a good team just because of Kawhi. They’re good in their own right. You cannot say the same thing about the Mavericks. You take Luka off of the team and they’re trash.

You take Kawhi off the Clippers and they win two playoff games to defeat the #1 seed in the West.

Kawhi is good, but he’s not anywhere near as valuable as guys like LeBron, KD, Steph, Luka, Giannis, Jokic.

After tonight, that should be obvious. But the media will probably keep stanning for him as if he’s the second coming of Michael Jordan.

The Clippers blew the 3-1 lead to Denver in the bubble last year, and Kawhi escaped virtually all criticism. Everyone just mercilessly piled onto “Playoff P,” even though Kawhi was 6-22 from the floor for 14 points in game 7, including 1-11 from the field in the second half of that game.

And yet all we heard was “Trade Paul George!” “PG-13%!” “Backboard-P!”

You never see the #2 guy on a team get the bulk of the criticism for a team losing in the playoffs. Except for when Kawhi Leonard is the #1.

He gets all the credit when they win, but then when the Clippers lose, everyone just bashes Paul George.

I don’t know if Kawhi will be back at all for this postseason. The word is that he has an “ACL injury“, and normally those are season-enders. But nobody’s said he has a torn ACL and is done for the year, and the team is calling it a knee sprain, so I have no idea what’s going on with him. His injuries are usually shrouded in mystery.

If he comes back, you can almost guarantee he will immediately start getting all the credit for any future Clippers’ wins. The media will act like these past two games never even happened.

The media must have some unwritten rule that they are never to criticize Kawhi, and always be gassing him up as if he’s the best player in the league.

I don’t get it; I don’t understand why they treat him so differently from all the other superstars. Maybe it’s because he’s just silent all the time and nobody actually knows anything about his personality, so they feel bad for dumping on him. I don’t know.

But there is no player in the league with a bigger disconnect between the reality of how good he actually is and how good the media says he is. This dude finished 2nd in MVP voting in 2016 averaging 21 points per game.

I don’t understand it at all. Kawhi is graded on a curve like no other.

He’s an A to A- level player that the media acts like is top-10 all-time.

I don’t want this post to drag on too long, because it’s getting kind of late, so I’ll elaborate even further on this subject another day.

But the bottom line is that after these past two games, you cannot call Kawhi a top-5 player in the NBA. If he was truly on the same level as LeBron and KD and Steph, his team would be nothing without him. Instead, they’re blowing the doors off the team that had the best record in the league.

Can the Clippers win it all without Kawhi? No, probably not. But wow, NEWS FLASH: you probably can’t win a title with Paul George as your best player. Does anyone actually dispute that? I don’t think Kawhi would be able to win a title without Paul George either–there’s a reason Kawhi demanded the Clippers trade for Paul George before he would agree to sign with them.

The Clippers’ odds of winning a championship are higher with Kawhi than without him. I’m not saying Kawhi is garbage or anything. I still think he’s a really good basketball player even though the media overrates the hell out of him. Even though technically, in terms of plus-minus, the Clippers are better without him, I don’t actually believe they are truly better in the long-run without him. I still think they need him to win a Championship.

But then again, if Chris Paul misses a lot of time in the conference finals, the Clippers could definitely win that series. The Suns were lost without Chris Paul in that first round series against the Lakers–even when he was playing but hurt.

The Clippers might be the deepest team in the league, quite honestly.

And I’m expecting Brooklyn to come out of the East, but they are really dealing with some serious injuries right now and I don’t know if KD can carry that roster by himself to two more playoff series wins. What if the Clippers win the West and then Kyrie can’t come back for the Finals, and Harden re-aggravates his hamstring again and can’t play, and so it’s just KD with Blake Griffin, Joe Harris and Jeff Green against the Clippers? I think the Clippers would probably win that series.

What if it’s the Bucks in the Finals? The Bucks would be favored, but I don’t have a ton of confidence in them. I think they’re a lot like the Jazz: great in the regular season, haven’t done much in the playoffs.

The Sixers, with a hobbled Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons who’s apparently lost all confidence in his game and is afraid to even take a shot? The young Atlanta Hawks with 22-year-old Trae Young as their best player?

The way this Clippers team is playing right now, I would not count them out against any of the other teams left in the playoffs.

Again, I don’t think you can win a Championship with Paul George as your #1 option, but this year is crazy with all these injuries. It might end up being the team with the fewest injuries winning it all.

The fact that it’s even a discussion about whether the Clippers can still win it all without Kawhi–that, to me, says it all. You cannot put Kawhi in the top-5.

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