Clippers guard Reggie Jackson, center left, tries to put up a shot over Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker during the Clippers’ loss in Game 6 on Wednesday. (Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)
His eyes blinked faster and faster as he began to pick at his hair, the first sign of Reggie Jackson becoming overwhelmed with his emotions. In a matter of seconds, tears began to stream down Jackson’s face, flowing even as he tried to wipe them away.
The playoff roller-coaster ride the Clippers have been on for the past 5½ weeks came to an end Wednesday night, leaving them short of their goal of claiming an NBA championship for the first time in the franchise’s history.
The Clippers did go where no other team in the organization’s history had gone — the Western Conference finals — and that made it all the more emotional for Jackson and his teammates.
After the Clippers lost 130-103 at Staples Center and were eliminated from the playoffs by the Phoenix Suns in losing the best-of-seven series 4-2, coach Tyronn Lue summed up things.
“We did something special this year, even though we didn’t complete what we wanted to complete,” Lue said. “I thought we did a great job of just doing something special, doing something this franchise has never done before. … And like I told our guys in the locker room, I love those guys. I’ll go to war with them any time. Just proud of them even though we came up short, and it was a great run despite everything we had to go through.”
Jackson got better in each round of the playoffs, averaging 20.3 points per game against the Suns.
The season started with Jackson not playing much, but he ended it on a high note.
“This year was my best year, the most challenging year, the most fun year,” Jackson said. “Not sure I was going to play. Ups and downs. Guys were injured. Still found my way into this locker room. First thing I told these guys was, ‘thank you for saving me.’ Yeah, I appreciate every guy in that locker room. I appreciate Paul [George] for getting on that phone last year at the end the season. Was talking to a buyout with Detroit. I’m thankful for everything I’ve experienced being here.
“This city making me feel at home. This organization welcoming me, my quirks, my strengths, my weaknesses. I wonder if I would still be playing without this team. So, yeah, I thank them. It’s a special year.”
Jackson will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Based on his play in the playoffs, he’ll likely get a nice payday.
“Like I said, it sucks that we didn’t win it, but I’ll ride with those guys,” Jackson said. “Those guys rode with me all year and I’ll ride with those guys. And that’s what makes this one tougher, makes this extremely tough. … I think that group, they found ways to push me every way and every day to challenge me, to ask me to be better, to encourage me to be better. [They] became family and it’s been a great day in the brotherhood here. It’s been an extremely special year under these extreme, difficult circumstances that everybody’s been under with the pandemic, COVID, this core group is the one thing that allowed me to be myself and I’m forever thankful.”
The Clippers had to endure a lot during the playoffs.
The team’s best player, Kawhi Leonard, missed the last eight games because of a knee injury. Center Ivica Zubac (right knee MCL sprain) missed last two games and center Serge Ibaka (back surgery) missed the entire playoffs.
Still, the Clippers refused to quit.
They trailed 2-0 in the first round to the Mavericks, but won that series 4-3.
They trailed 2-0 in the second round to the Jazz, but won that series 4-2.
They trailed 2-0 and then 3-1 to the Suns before falling in six games.
“When I think back to this season, I’ll think back to the playoff run we had, and being down in the series both those first two and fighting back and winning those,” Lue said. “And you know, what we did this year was special.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.