All Ball Sports: Clippers close, MCHS VB’s Coordt, Coach Drost earn All CIF honors

Two-time Olympic medalist April Ross and former Mira Costa star Alix Klineman with their Manhattan Beach Volleyball Walk of Fame plaques in 2019. This summer the two hope to add an Olympic gold medal and another Walk of Fame bronze plaque to their collections. Photo by Ray Vidal

by Paul Teetor

The Clippers got a good look at their future Monday night – or as the Sarah Connor character said in The Terminator, one possible future.

In this nightmarish future, their best player – Kawhi Leonard – is gone, either to some other team or to the permanent injury list.

In this possible future, Paul George is now their best player. And while the self-named Playoff P is an All-Star and an elite talent, he’s not a superstar like Kawhi is. On most nights he’s unable to dominate a game because he just doesn’t have an alpha dog mentality. He’s much more comfortable in his natural role: Robin to Kawhi’s Batman.

But then there are nights like Monday night, when Playoff P scored 41 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and inspired his team to a most unlikely 116-102 win over the Phoenix Suns in game 5 of the Western Conference Finals.

In an amazing postseason Clippers run full of improbable comebacks and gritty wins in elimination games, this was the most surprising and most nitty-gritty win of all. Not only did Kawhi miss his sixth game in a row with a knee injury, but starting center Ivica Zubac had to sit out the game with a leg injury.

And the game was in Phoenix, in front of a full house of screaming Suns fans who fully expected to see their hometown Suns deliver the final blow, crush the badly depleted Clippers 4-1 in the WCF, and advance to the NBA Finals next week.

Instead, none of that happened and now the two teams will square off again Wednesday night in front of a standing-room-only crowd at the Staples Center. If the Clips win that game 6, they will force a game 7 in Phoenix Friday night with the winner going to the NBA Finals.

If it comes down to that game 7, look for it to be the most brutal, most physical, and yes, the dirtiest game in the history of either franchise, both of which are desperate to get to the Finals. The Clippers have never been there, and the Suns have not been there since Charles Barkley led them there in 1993, only to lose to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. 

In Chris Paul and Jae Crowder, the Suns have two players who, if they’re on your side, are known as feisty, scrappy players. If they’re on the other side, they’re known as dirty players.

Likewise, in Patrick Beverly and Marcus Morris, the Clippers have two players they like to call scrappy and feisty, but the rest of the league calls them dirty. Indeed, Beverly made his rep as a defensive stopper when he injured the great Russell Westbrook on a borderline dirty play several years ago in a playoff game. To this day, Westbrook despises Beverly and goes out of his way to antagonize him.

So look for one, two, three or all four of those players to be involved in controversial calls and flagrant fouls in game 6 and even more so in game 7 if that comes to pass Friday night. 

The Clippers victory Monday night was notable not only because it was so unexpected, but because in the process the Clippers added to their accumulation of post-season records and streaks.

Consider: Playoff P became only the third player to shoot better than 80 percent and score more than 30 points in a playoff elimination game. The other two: Anthony Davis in 2020 and Dwayne Wade in 2010. That’s pretty good company.                    

Or this: the Clippers are now the first team ever to win four straight elimination games. This goes all the way back to the first round against Dallas when they lost the first two games in the Staples Center, won the next two in Dallas, lost game 5 in Staples, won game 6 in Dallas, and then won game 7 back here in LA. Games 6 and 7 qualified as elimination games – meaning, if they lost the game they were eliminated from the playoffs. They won another elimination game against Utah, clawing their way back from yet another 0-2 deficit.

The Monday night Clippers victory was a crazy game on so many levels. First of all because it came after two straight poor performances by Playoff P when he had a chance to lead the Clippers to a 3-1 series lead. His two missed foul shots with 8 seconds left in game 2 set the stage for the most memorable play of the series so far, the alley-oop lob pass to Suns center DeAndre Ayton with one second left. He dunked just before the buzzer to give the Suns a miraculous 1-point win that had the home crowd jumping in jubilation and the shocked, dejected Clippers walking off in disbelief.

That was a painful glimpse into the other possible future the Clippers are looking at: where PG, who has a history of choking at the worst possible times, fails to deliver when it matters most – the same times where Kawhi has a history of delivering clutch plays and miracle shots. It’s the subtle but real difference between an all-star and a superstar. 

And here’s the tough reality for Clippers fans: Kawhi has the option to leave the Clippers this summer.  George, who recently signed a 5-year, $190 million extension, would then be left as the team’s best player, supported by a bunch of pretty good role players like Reggie Jackson, Nicholas Batum, Marcus Morris, Luke Kennard and Terance Mann. None of them are likely to ever make an All-Star team, but all of them are solid NBA players who make for a capable, championship-worthy supporting cast to a team headed by Kawhi and PG.

But on a team headed only by PG: no chance in hell of winning a title.

Still, there’s no good reason for Kawhi to leave the Clippers except that he’s completely unpredictable, completely closed to the press, and never reveals what he’s really thinking. With him, anything can happen.

After all, don’t forget he forced his way out of San Antonio after coach Greg Popovich had molded him from an unknown 15 overall draft pick to a superstar poised to take over the Spurs leadership role from the great Tim Duncan.

And after forcing the Spurs to trade him to Toronto, he made the Raptors let him sit out any game he wanted for “load management,” led them to an NBA title in his first and only year there, then spurned the team, the city and his victorious teammates to leave Canada for LA.  

Then he forced the Clippers to trade all their future assets to acquire PG, he urged Reggie Jackson to sign with the Clippers when Jackson was cut loose by the Detroit Pistons in February 2020, and it feels like he enjoys being the Man with this team.

And don’t forget he’s from SoCal – Riverside King High School – and has family and friends here. All good reasons to assume he is staying right here.

Still, it was very unsettling to see the shots of him lounging around an upper-level Staples skybox while watching his teammates sweat their way through a fierce battle on the court below in games 3 and 4. For those looking for an ominous omen, it was hard not to remind yourself that almost any other big-time player – LeBron, AD, Jamal Murray – who has been injured during the playoffs had made a point of sitting on the bench to show solidarity with his teammates.

And the reality is also this: he could end all the speculation about his future right now by simply coming out and declaring that he intends to sign a new contract with the Clippers if they come up from the $37 million per that they owe him for the next two years under his current contract. For them, that would be a no-brainer. That’s pocket change for owner Steve Ballmer.                          

But he has chosen not to do that.

So even as the Clippers were pulling off yet another miracle win without Kawhi, the long-range prospect of trying to contend for a championship over the next five years without him is looming in the background like a dark cloud sitting over the ocean on a June gloom day.

At this point, it looks extremely unlikely that he will play for the Clippers again this season, no matter how far they advance in the playoffs.

Beyond that?

Who the hell knows? Certainly not All Ball.

CIF Southern Section Division 1 Player of the Year and Mira Costa captain Ben Coordt. He dedicated his team’s CIF Championship to his dad Brett, whose Mira Costa team lost in the CIF finals in 1989. Photo by Ray Vidal

To the Victors go the Spoils

When the Mira Costa boys volleyball team won CIF by beating Newport Harbor a couple of weeks ago and then topped that by becoming regional and state champs, it was the culmination of an incredible season for Coach Avery Drost and his team.

This week they were recognized for their multiple achievements when Drost was named CIF Southern Section Division 1 Coach of the Year and outside hitter Ben Coordt was named Player of the Year.

“Ben was destined to win that award all year, his play was so outstanding that everyone could see how important he was to us,” Drost said. “We wouldn’t have won CIF or state without him.”

As for his own award, Drost said he was just lucky to have such a talented, hard-working group of players to work with.

“It’s awesome and I’m really, really honored,” Drost said. “But it was because of the boys that we won CIF and state. It belongs to them, not me.”

He also singled out his assistant coach Greg Snyder and former Mustangs coach Mike Cook, who came out of retirement to serve as a guide, mentor and father figure to the players as they entered the tricky waters of trying to win Costa’s first CIF title since 2012 – when Cook was still the head coach. 

CIF Southern Section Division 1 Coach of the Year Avery Drost celebrates his team’s Southern Regionals championship. Photo by Ray Vidal

“Every time the team needed to hear something special at a critical moment, Cooker was there to provide his wisdom,” Drost said. “With the credibility he had with the players, they listened and learned from him every day. The kids wanted to fight for him because they knew how much he cared about them.”

Three other Mustang players were also named to the All-CIF Southern Section Division 1 team: setter Troy MacDonald, middle blocker Jim Garrison and Libero Austin Stuard.

“I’m so happy for Troy,” Drost said. “He had a big challenge at the start of the season because he wasn’t used to playing with a lot of our guys who had played together on a club team for a lot of years. There was a lot of pressure on him as a setter to develop a rhythm with Ben as our best hitter, and by the end of the year they were playing with a beautiful rhythm together.”

Garrison, who is 6-foot-9, faced a different challenge: some people felt he was too nice a guy to be part of a championship team. 

“Jim was good all year, but he really took off in the playoffs,” Drost said. “He developed a more aggressive and assertive style, going after the ball and bringing a little more competitive energy. He’s got this incredible length, and we told him we needed him to dominate in the playoffs. He was absolutely the MVP of the CIF championship match. He totally dominated the middle for us against Newport Harbor.”

Stuard was everything a libero needs to be for a championship team: quick, agile and tenacious.

“He dug a ton of balls for us,” Drost said. “And he always brought the competitive fire. He played with a swagger and confidence that was important to our success.”

Even a couple of weeks after the Mustangs won CIF, they were still celebrating.

“The coolest thing that happened was at graduation when the Mira Costa students did their stroll from pier to pier on the Strand,” Drost said. “The boys got to parade together and wave the CIF banner around. It was such a great note for them to end their high school careers on. The volleyball community here will always remember Costa’s class of ’21.”       

The Wimbledon of beach volleyball is back

The Manhattan Beach Open is back after a year off due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The AVP tour announced this week that the MB Open, held from August 20-22, will be part of their three event Gold Series, along with tournaments in Atlanta and Chicago.

Coming shortly after the Olympic games, the MB event – with free general admission — is likely to feature at least one and possibly several medal winners from the American beach volleyball teams that qualified under the two-teams-per-country per gender format that the IOC has instituted.

As All Ball reported two weeks ago, the A-Team of Alix Klineman and April Ross and the team of Sarah Sponcil and Kelly Claes will represent American women. The teams of Taylor Crabb/Jake Gibb and Phil Daulhasser/Nick Lucena will represent the American men.

Avery Drost, who will enter the MB Open with local favorite Sean Rosenthal, said he would rather win the MB Open than an Olympic medal.

“I understand that an Olympic medal would probably do more for my career, but I’d rather have my name inscribed on the pier, and have it be there forever. I can’t explain how much that would mean to me.”

Contact: teetor.paul@gmail.com. Follow: @paulteetor                 

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Written by: Paul Teetor

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