For three straight series, the Los Angeles Clippers have placed themselves in a position to either win four of five games or ride into a post-elimination existence. For three straight series they've used the wall against their backs to get leverage and throw punches of their own. They emerged from near-death experiences to best the Dallas Mavericks in seven games. They did the same against the Utah Jazz. So no one should be surprised by the competitive spirit on display at Staples Center Thursday night and being down 0-2 and rallying has become a way of life for Ty Lue.
That doesn't make it any less weird.
In playoff bordering on all absurdity, what Los Angeles is doing — and how they're doing it — may be the most bizarre storyline. They are delighting in taking an opponent's best punch, spitting out their own blood, and getting to the business of finding the winner's circle. Paul George, save for an unfortunate trip to the free-throw line, has been Playoff B or B+. Luke Kennard is playing crucial minutes just months removed from being in Pistons purgatory. The same for Reggie Jackson, who is looking like Mr. June. And Terance Mann is regularly forcing people to Google just who the hell is Terance Mann.
To win last night with Kawhi watching from the 300-level, shows the undeniable heart this team has. Even as it doesn't feel like they are a mentally tough or particularly resilient team. Fifty years of franchise ineptitude and early postseason failure have built up a tough exterior the Clippers will have to work extra hard to crack. There's a warranted feeling of distrust, but then again which of the remaining four teams could a person feel confident trusting?
LIke I said, odd times.
Imagine being told months ago the exact size and scope of responsibility that would fall under Jackson's purview. Imagine the disbelief it would engender hearing how admirably he's performed. You'd wonder how this person gained psychic powers and why they were so focused on a 31-year-old journeyman.
Jackson is averaging 17.6 points and playing over 31 minutes per playoff contest. He's shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc and has a starting .627 effective field goal percentage. More often than not he's being tasked with creating shots as the clock ticks down and is performing at what feels like an unsustainable level. Yet, 16 games is not a small sample size.
In seven of the last 12, he's scored at least 20 points. Jackson totes a plus-minus of +126 in games after L.A. stumbles to its comfortable 0-2 hole. He's the difference-maker showing poise under pressure and — gasp — making his teammates better.
Vegas simply would not have given you future odds on this scenario. But just because it's weird doesn't make it any less real.
No one will bat an eye if the Clippers win the West. Or win it all. Perhaps they can put together four series comebacks to hammer home just strange this year's twists and turns have been. Almost seems fitting at this point.