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The Lob City Clippers are over, and they will be missed

Chris Paul is leaving the Clippers, and Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan may soon follow. With them ends the greatest era in Clippers history.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Los Angeles Clippers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The good things, they never last.

Back in 2011, when DeAndre Jordan found out that the Clippers acquired Chris Paul, an excited Blake Griffin jumped into him and said that they were about to be the Lob City. And for two years, they were one of the most fun teams in the league.

It was an innocent quote that was turned into branding by an equally excited media. Here was one of the best point guards and passers in NBA history, and he was now flanked by two insanely athletic big men. Griffin and Jordan had already spent their early seasons giving defenders anxiety under the rim. Now they had a point guard who could set up their posters even more routinely and efficiently.

The signature moment in Lob City history came at the expense of Brandon Knight’s life and career on March 10, 2013.

The call for the play was simple: “Here comes Chris Paul. The lob,” and here time seemed to slow to a crawl, a phenomenon called Tachypsychia, in which the perception of time lengthens, making the event feel as if it’s happening in slow-motion. It happens during times of great physical stress or violent confrontation, like being involved in a car crash.

Paul dribbled the ball up the right side of the court. Lamar Odom screened for Jordan at the top of the key and allowed him a free run into the paint. Knight, who was defending Matt Barnes in the left corner, saw the play develop, and without questioning his instincts, came over to defend. He saw the lob, jumped, and nothing was the same.

Jordan caught the ball with two hands, collided with Knight, and then, because he wanted to be as disrespectful as possible, Jordan switched the ball to his right hand and dunked so hard that when he landed, Knight was curled up on the floor as if he were having night terrors. Then the exclamation, “The jam! Oh, what a monster jam!”

Jordan stepped over Knight’s body and Chris Paul walked past the crime scene with a look on his face that was both surprised and giddy. For days the memes came. The gifs of Jordan’s stink face as he walked back were everywhere. Simba was photoshopped trying to wake up Knight, as if he was Mufasa trampled by the stampede. There was a video that set the dunk to NBA Jam commentary. Someone photoshopped a chalk outline of Knight’s body onto the court. And Knight even poked fun at himself after, tweeting: “It wasn't in the scouting reports that the clippers threw lobs lol.”

That was the best moment, but Lob City’s signature game came against the Lakers. On March 6, 2014, a year after “Lob City” was supposedly retired, the Clippers blew out the Lakers, 142-94. It was a show of everything these new-age Clippers wanted to be.

The Clippers swept the Lakers in a four-game series the season before, and this win was so dominant that it was impossible to deny the tide change. From being the inconsequential second team in Staples, the Clippers were the new power in L.A. In that game they scored their most points ever in road game, the most points in franchise history since 1998, and gave the Lakers what had been their worst loss ever.

The Clippers finished the first half with more than 70 points, the second time they achieved the feat against the Lakers in the Chris Paul era. The best thing was, after Griffin’s declaration that Lob City was over, the blowout featured an avalanche of alley-oops from Paul to Griffin and Jordan. At one point in the third quarter, after Paul had set up Jordan, Reggie Miller said: “This is worse than varsity vs. JV. This is varsity vs. a grade school, right now.” It was so bad that even Barnes set up a few dunks of his own.

Lob City never really ended. The lobs kept coming, but at some point the Clippers felt they needed to be taken seriously. Doc Rivers wanted them to have substance beyond being a fun team that dunks all the time. They rebranded and tried to win a championship. For one reason or the other, they failed to even get to the conference finals: The Donald Sterling scandal, the embarrassing collapse from a 3-1 lead against the Rockets, the time Griffin broke his hand on a guy’s face, and then more legitimate injuries to Griffin and Paul.

It’s easy to list all of the ways that the team failed. Rivers with his bad management. Jordan and his free throws. Griffin and his health. Paul’s legacy took the brunt of the blame. The failure seemed to be an extension of his time in New Orleans. One of the greatest point guards ever has played 76 postseason games, and none of them have been in the conference finals.

But it’s also worthwhile to look at the success that the team had.

Before this Chris Paul era, the Clippers had only won two playoff series in 41 years. He led them to three. They had never won more than 40 games in a season. They finished these last five years winning 50 or more. This Clippers team might have failed in the context of winning a championship, or even becoming the true Western power that they threatened to be, but it was the most successful time in Clippers history. Lob City was an unimaginable time period for a team and fan base who had always lived in the shadows.

It was just a short time ago that Paul, Griffin, and others were locked in Jordan’s house, trying to convince him to stay in L.A., to give this collection of stars another chance at winning something, to believe in what they had created.

After another failed playoff effort, the long-feared blowup seems to be happening. Paul is leaving to try to find the success that has eluded him his whole career. Griffin might go, and if so then Jordan will be the only star on a rebuilding team. With that, we can finally say that Lob City is over.