All of the Clippers’ painstaking work to earn the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference playoffs and they earned a first-round matchup with the defending champion Spurs.
Some gift, right?
The Clippers could bemoan drawing one of the toughest No. 6 seeds in recent memory. Or, they could take a cue from coach Doc Rivers and embrace the challenge that Gregg Popovich, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan & Co. represent.
Indeed, the Clippers are embracing the challenge of the Spurs with a Texas-sized bearhug.
"They’re the champs until somebody knocks them off," Jamal Crawford said. "Nobody was going to get to the finals without going through the Spurs. All roads lead through them anyway. … There wasn’t going to be any easy way around it. That’s just how the West is. What better team to start with than the defending champs?"
They’re owning this. They actually want to play the Spurs.
It’s not the way the Clippers would’ve drawn it up, but they’re going with the flow. The Western Conference was so tough that 24 hours before the Clippers learned their fate, there were still four teams they could’ve played — Dallas, San Antonio, Memphis or Houston.
They wouldn’t be the favorite in the seven-game series against the Spurs, and that’s OK. The Clippers have home-court advantage. Yet didn’t everyone want to do a Texas two-step to avoid the Spurs?
"We’re excited," DeAndre Jordan said. "We accept the challenge. Teams really don’t want to play the Spurs. No matter what first round second round conference finals you’ve got to go through those guys anyway. It’ll be a big test for us, but we’re ready."
The Clippers had their first practice of the postseason Thursday, and they’ll have two more practices before Sunday’s Game 1 at Staples Center.
They dined together and watched the NBA’s final regular season games Wednesday as a team. Asked if he was disappointed when he found out the Clippers were playing the Spurs, Chris Paul sarcastically said: "Yeah, I mean we were all like, ‘Damn, we’re going to the playoffs.’ Not for me, but you have to ask everybody else."
Everyone was singing the same harmony, and that was that they’re confident, ready and just perfectly fine playing the Spurs, who stand in their way of making the Western Conference semifinals, an obstacle the Clippers need to figure out.
Both teams are heading into the postseason with impressive win streaks. The Clippers have won 14 of their last 15 games and have won seven in a row. The Spurs’ 11-game win streak ended with a loss to New Orleans on Wednesday, but the Pelicans were a desperate team needing the win to make the postseason.
The Spurs have the NBA’s longest active consecutive seasons postseason streak at 18 years.
When a reporter asked about the Spurs’ experience, Doc Rivers said with a laugh: "You’ve written us off already. We’re not going to have their experience. There’s no way. So what? They have an advantage over every team playing, not just us. They’ve won titles together. That, you cannot knock off. They can be down 20 points in a game, they won’t be phased. It can be a one-point game, they won’t be phased. They’ve been through every possible situation you can go through in a tight game, blowout, comeback game. We’re not trying to catch that. We can’t we can’t make that up."
But they did make up their minds that they’re just fine drawing the unenviable first-round matchup against the Spurs.
Embracing it. Owning it. And seemingly looking forward to it.