Los Angeles Clippers

Made to Chill presented by Coors Light: LA Clippers secure ninth playoff berth in 10 years

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The LA Clippers have clinched a spot in the 2021 NBA Playoffs (NBA Illustration)

The LA Clippers have secured a place in the 2021 NBA Playoffs.

On Sunday, the Clippers clinched their third-consecutive playoff berth with the Lakers dropping their home game against the Raptors 121-114.

In a moment that's Made to Chill, let's break down what it all means for the Clippers.

The most successful stretch in franchise history

The Clippers moved to Los Angeles prior to the 1984-85 season and made just five postseason appearances in their first 27 seasons in the City of Angels.

The Clippers have now qualified for the postseason in nine of the last 10 seasons, marking what has been clearly the most successful stretch in franchise history.

After missing the postseason in the 2017-18 season, LA qualified as the eighth seed in 2019 before a transformative offseason that brought in All-Stars Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, a duo that has ushered in the most promising era of Clippers basketball.

In the first season of the George-Leonard era, LA advanced to the 2020 Playoffs with a 49-23 record, good for second in the Western Conference. After coming up short in the postseason, the Clippers again entered the 2020-21 season with very real title aspirations and a new coach in Tyronn Lue at the helm.

Of course, you can't win a title without making it to the playoffs first, and LA has handled the first order of business in securing its place in the postseason.

Now, it's time to jockey for position.

While this has been the most successful stretch the franchise has ever seen, the Clippers have never earned the West's No. 1 seed, with last year's second-place finish standing as the best ever. LA, which owns the tiebreaker over Phoenix but lost the season series to Utah, still has an outside shot at finishing first in the West with under 10 games remaining in the regular season.

The Kawhi effect

Drafted in 2011, this marks Kawhi's 10th season in the NBA. This also marks the 10th time that a team with Leonard on its roster has qualified for the NBA Playoffs, though an injury held him out of the 2018 postseason.

It helps that Leonard was acquired on draft night by a franchise in the San Antonio Spurs that is the NBA's standard for sustained excellence. The impact the Spurs had on Leonard is undeniable as he slowly but surely emerged into being the man in San Antonio, winning NBA Finals MVP in his third season and becoming the league's back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year and legitimate MVP candidate not long thereafter.

Since being traded by San Antonio in the summer of 2018, the 29-year-old has clearly brought some of the practices he picked up as a Spur to his next stops.

During his lone season as a member of the Toronto Raptors, Leonard pushed the franchise to heights it had never reached before, leading the Raptors to their first-ever NBA Finals appearance and a historic NBA title. Now, the two-time Finals MVP is again in a position to lead the Clippers franchise to new heights.

This season, Leonard is almost quietly averaging 25.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and a career-high 5.1 assists while shooting 51.6 percent from the field, 39.3 percent from 3-point range and 87.8 percent from the charity stripe.

If history is any indication, Kawhi has another gear he can tap into in the postseason. If he's able to step his game up this postseason, those new heights could be reached sooner than later…

A year of firsts?

Of the 13 previous postseason appearances the Clippers have made in Los Angeles, the franchise has just five series wins to show for it. While LA is again eyeing its first NBA title, it has another first to check off of the list.

As it stands, the Clippers are one of three NBA franchises to never make it to the Conference Finals stage. After falling one win shy last season, LA is primed to get over the hump in 2021.

With the playoff berth clinched, LA could make it a number of firsts with each of its goals still in sight.

As mentioned above, the Clippers are still in a position to earn a No. 1 seed for the first time in franchise history. While the team will understandably prioritize health, over seeding, owning the tiebreaker over the Suns and some uncertainty surrounding the Jazz makes it a realistic possibility.

A first-place finish would mean home-court advantage throughout the postseason and the security of having any Game 7 at home should only add confidence to the prospect of getting over the hump to string together series wins to make it to the Western Conference Finals for the first time ever.

Of course, the franchise's eye is on the major prize and with a championship-winning coach in Lue and former champions in Leonard, Serge Ibaka and Rajon Rondo on the roster, there are a number of voices that know what it takes.

Since the year 2000, only two franchises have won a title in their first-ever finals appearance. The last time it happened, the team was led by one Kawhi Leonard.

Just saying…

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