The scrappy 32-year-old guard played sporadically over the first two rounds of the playoffs yet left his mark on each game he played with his unparalleled intensity, regardless of how many minutes he was given.
Come the Western Conference Finals, Beverley was thrust into the starting line-up for the injury-riddled Clippers from Game 2 onwards and he impacted the series with his menacing defense on the Phoenix Suns’ prolific back court.
Beverley stayed ready throughout the playoffs and best embodies the Clippers’ next-man-up approach amidst the injuries to Kawhi Leonard, Ivica Zubac, and Serge Ibaka.
His scrappiness has seemingly rubbed off on the rest of his teammates, helping propel the Clippers deeper into the postseason than what was expected after Leonard’s second round injury, so it was only fitting that he was also the epitome of their frustration as they unraveled in Game 6 against the Suns.
Los Angeles managed to stay within striking distance of Phoenix throughout the game before falling behind by 17 points midway through the third period. Without Leonard, the Clippers lacked the fire power to go toe-to-toe with the Suns offensively while the absence of Zubac and Ibaka were exploited by DeAndre Ayton inside.
A repeat performance from Paul George, who had 41 points and 13 rebounds in Game 5, was desperately needed by head coach Ty Lue, but the Suns managed to hold him to just 21 points on six-for-15 shooting from the field. Los Angeles managed to pull within seven with less than two minutes remaining in the third quarter after a Nicolas Batum three pointer before Chris Paul put on arguably the greatest playoff performance of his career to clinch his first-ever NBA Finals berth.
The Clippers watched helplessly as the 16-year veteran Paul scored 23 of Phoenix’s next 29 points, most in the face of Beverley, who grew more frustrated with every basket. Los Angeles was suddenly down by 26 points with less than six minutes left in the game when Lue decided to call his second timeout of the quarter.
Beverley and Paul, who had been talking trash for most of the contest, crossed paths before retreating to their respective huddles. The Suns welcomed back their leader to the bench while, unknown to them, Beverley turned, charged, then shoved Paul from behind while he attempted to complete a high-five with reserve forward Torrey Craig.
The referees ejected Beverley from the game and a few minutes later, the Suns ejected the rest of the Clippers from the playoffs with a 130-103 blowout win.
Despite the humiliating manner that they were eliminated and Beverley’s misbehavior, Los Angeles had a commendable postseason run. They rallied back from a 2-0 deficit to win each of the first two rounds and managed to close out the top-seeded Utah Jazz even without the services of the two-time NBA Finals MVP Leonard in the last pair of games.
Without his fellow All-Star Leonard, George flashed the elite postseason form that he last displayed when he was still with the Indiana Pacers several years ago. Aside from leading the team in scoring, he served as one of the Clippers’ primary facilitators and put up 5.5 assists versus the Suns.
Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris also stepped up for Los Angeles and the former, playing on a veteran’s minimum contract, shot his way into what will be a lucrative contract this coming off-season. The pair of Clippers filled in admirably, but a team with these two players serving as their second and third options in the Western Conference Finals can only go so far.
In hindsight, their mid-season trade that shipped out three-time NBA Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams, who scored 21 points for the Atlanta Hawks a day earlier in the Eastern Conference Finals, for Rajon Rondo hurt them in this series.
Rondo, acquired to relive his role on last year’s NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers, was meant to provide the Clippers with a veteran presence while facilitating their offense alongside Leonard and George. However, he was seldomly used by Lue even after Leonard’s injury and the Clippers found themselves lacking a consistent scoring punch off the bench without Williams.
The impact of the injuries to Ibaka and Zubac also cannot be overstated. Ibaka, who won a championship in 2019 with Leonard and the Toronto Raptors, had a strong campaign as the Clippers’ starting center before back spasms sidelined him in March. He returned before the playoffs, but managed to play just two games in the first round before bowing out due to the lingering injury.
The Clippers badly needed Ibaka, who is a mobile shot blocker with a consistent three-point shot, especially against the Suns. His ability to match-up with Ayton, while also being capable of keeping up with guards on switches, would have made a significant difference in this series.
Zubac, who replaced Ibaka as their starting center, missed the last two games versus the Suns after thriving in his match-up with Ayton over the first four contests. Los Angeles replaced him in the starting line-up with the 6’5 Terance Mann, who was one of their breakout stars of the playoffs, while unleashing DeMarcus Cousins in short bursts, but it was only enough to take Game 5. The Suns duly adjusted come Game 6 and put an end to the first Western Conference Finals appearance of this Clipper franchise.
Moving forward, Los Angeles will still have George, Morris, Mann, Zubac, and Beverley under contract for next season while Leonard and Ibaka have player options. Jackson may have played his way out of the Clippers’ price range, but replacement point guards should be readily available in the market.
The return of Leonard and Ibaka is crucial for their championship aspirations and if healthy, this team will automatically contend for a championship behind their two stars and the top tier coaching of Lue. The addition of a perimeter facilitator, a role that they hoped Rondo could fill, can help bolster their cause next year while a consistent third scoring option to replace Jackson, if he departs, should also be a priority.
Los Angeles may have fallen short of their championship aspirations yet again, but can enter the off-season with their heads held high after an inspiring showing in this year’s playoffs–something that could not have been said after last year’s NBA Bubble debacle.