L.A.’s roller coaster came to weary end

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Doc Rivers speaks after the Clippers’ Game 6 and series loss

LOS ANGELES — Through all the ugly, unwanted daily questions that started with the name Donald, Clippers coach Doc Rivers maintained a sense of humor to the end.

In the postgame news conference moments after his team succumbed for the last time to the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinal series, Rivers was informed of the latest, jaw-clenching news of the day that broke shortly before tip-off: Banned-for-life Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling asserted he will not pay the $2.5 million fine levied last month by NBA commissioner Adam Silver and vowed to fight the league’s intention to force him to sell the team.

Seated at the dais in front of a microphone, Rivers threw up his hands: “I’m not paying my $25,000 fine either,” he deadpanned.

Rivers was fined by the league Thursday morning for his criticism of the referees following the controversial call at the end of Game 5, a game L.A had in its back pocket before a calamity of errors allowed a seven-point lead to evaporate in the final 49 seconds.

The standing room-only crowd of reporters burst into laughter. Rivers, his suit coat long gone and his tie and top button of his white dress shirt loosened, flashed a fatigued smile just as his players in the adjoining room slumped at their lockers in painful silence.

Sterling had not been permitted inside the Staples Center since the first round. But his specter never left the building.

“The locker room was not very good after the game, in a very sad way,” Rivers said. “Just watching our guys, it just felt like all of this stuff that they’ve gone through, they kind of released all of their emotions. That was tough. That was tough for me to see as one of their leaders. I wish I could have done more for them.”

Rivers, in his first year with the Clippers following the rare coaching trade that released him from Boston’s rebuilding job, has been hailed as the perfect man for such a uniquely dispiriting turn of events. Throughout the playoffs, Rivers spoke openly and honestly about how he and his players were feeling and thinking without once losing his cool during the daily drudgery of such an unexpected mission.

His blowup after Game 5 might have been less about a call that didn’t go his team’s way than it was a month’s worth of emotion bubbling to the surface.

“I’ve said this before, and I’m not trying to show humility or anything like that,” Rivers said. “I think any coach in this system would have been the right coach, the right man. I just think you had to be. It’s not like we had a choice in it. None of us was chosen for this. None of us signed on for this. But this is what happened. The way I looked at it, it was my job to do everything that I thought was right.”

Soon after the Sterling audio was released, when emotions were at their rawest, Rivers said he didn’t know if he could coach the team next season if Sterling remained as owner. On Thursday night he made it clear that he will be back.

“I have no plans of going anywhere, as far as I know,” Rivers said.

For point guard Chris Paul, another season ended without advancing beyond the second round. His series of costly miscues in the final 17 seconds of Game 5 ate at him intensely. He wasn’t shooting it well in Game 6, but he was doing everything else as the Clippers maintained a lead until the end of the third quarter when an OKC burst tied it, 72-72.

Paul’s jumper with 7:59 to go tied it at 80-80, but the Thunder bolted on a 10-0 run and never looked back. Paul’s 14-point quarter accounted for more than half the Clippers’ points in the period, but it wasn’t enough.

The seven-time All-Star never pointed to the officiating after Game 5, only shoveling blame on his own shoulders. And when it was all over, he didn’t even lay the team’s exhaustive second-round loss at the feet of the disgraced owner, only at his own shortcomings.

Asked in the postgame news conference for his thoughts if Sterling is still owner by the start of next season, Paul shook his head and decided he was better off not answering at such an emotional moment, only to say that Sterling — who Paul and teammate Blake Griffin addressed only as “him” — is being paid too much attention.

“He’s the spirit of our team. Right now his spirit is broken,” Rivers said of Paul, who averaged 22.0 ppg, 12.0 ast and shot better than 50 percent. “He’s going to have all summer to work and get ready for next year. But he’ll be back. He’ll be ready.”

Most of the 2013-14 Clippers that won a franchise-best 57 games, will be back. The club has nearly $72 million tied into Paul, Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes, Jared Dudley and Reggie Bullock. Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford is under contract next season for $5.45 million dollars, but the full amount is non-guaranteed.

Even with Paul missing six weeks of the season with a separated right shoulder and Redick limited to less than half the season with multiple injuries, the Clippers earned the No. 3 seed in an ultra-competitive Western Conference.

Rivers predicted the coming summer to be “messy” as the Sterling fight enters the next phase. For now, it appears the Clippers’ coach and players are content to allow that drama to play out on the periphery while they focus in on a brighter day and renewed goals come next October.

“We had a really, really good team, a great team,” Paul said. “Before the game, Doc talked about it. I told somebody at halftime, ‘It’s crazy, you play all season long, and the last few games we really started to figure out who our team was and how to play.’

“And it’s crazy that it’s over.”

12 Comments

  1. okcDoke2014 says:

    The Thunder are a good team but far from great and Spurs will expose that fact. Besides we need the West represented by a team that can win it all

  2. Sorry Clippers but if you’re going to use Sterling as your excuse and a crutch then don’t play teams as good as the Thunder. Outside the LA area half the people don’t agree with the players and their league. Maybe those that live in LA, and the rest of the NBA world aren’t aware that the rest of the country has gotten more conservative and love to show the hypocrisy of those they call liberals. You hate the NSA’s security measures that keep telephone records but want to tailor the fourth amendment to exclude racists. If we aren’t allowed to present evidence gathered illegally to convict criminals than why do so many want to go after someone that said some racist things when he thought nobody was listening? Sure the NBA has rules and they may want to interpret one of them in such a way that it would apply but outside their agreement among themselves is a legal system with it’s own antitrust rules that govern cartels like the NBA and the constitution with it’s fourth amendment clause that could take precedent. Millionaire players may be over reaching if they think they can refuse to play and threaten a boycott. That’s called a strike and they do have a union at least whenever it serves their need. The league could bargain but their hands are tied until the court decides this thing and it could go all the way to the supreme court. Everybody needs to take a deep breathe before they unravel what’s taken a long time to build.

  3. okcDoke2014 says:

    Sterling lost series for his team and now loses team for his racism.

  4. I believe the Oklahoma Thunder aren’t getting their deserved credit and the whole city is using the Sterling tape as an excuse. Yes the team is better because it has better players but if any of them were still thinking about Sterling while on the court than they shouldn’t have even been out there. We’ve seen sports figures play immediately after a death in their family and have remarkable success. The psyche of the Clippers was suffering more by comebacks of the Thunder period. If they are going to use old man Sterling as a clutch then it’s going to be convenient to have him around and he’s probably going to be for years rather than months. I’m sure many have looked at the league agreement and found some obscure rule that could be molded to fit his situation but there is a whole other world when it is matched in the legal system with antitrust laws and the constitution. The NBA has been so successful that it could be viewed as a cartel. Where’s their competition? Then there’s the other small detail of the fourth amendment. Something gathered unlawfully can’t even be used in a criminal case. That doesn’t mean that it only applies to government because the media isn’t allowed to do it either. The league may have better luck suing TMZ because it seems half the country, at least outside LA, are divided and conservatives are siding against players that were so quick to threaten boycott. They love to point out the hypocrisy when liberals attack the NSA.for spying but are more than willing to allow a secretly taped conversation intended to solicit and provoke until the illicit intention was achieved. I’m sure everybody wish people would just play by the rules and the NBA has rules. I think the court will find there are other rules that must stay consistent and can’t be tailored to short change even people that are criminals or the careless ones that make racist remarks when they don’t think anyone is listening.

  5. KDfan says:

    Sterling is and has been “Filtered Filth” period. However, the downfall for the LAC team was letting the situation bother them than keeping the task at hand in front of them. A team can take an adverse situation and let it affect them. But that’s a risk because it can go both ways. If you forgive, you forget the situation and I para phrase Kenny the Jet Smith’s words ” You stop being controlled by the forgiven person”. The league is in control and will do the best. You are playing for achieving greatness and payed huge amounts to do so. As professionals you have to, and I reiterate, HAVE TO be able to put everything aside and move on toward your goal.

  6. okc2014 says:

    I’m certainly no Flippers fan, but can empathize with their situation. I hope they make really good use of their summer and do the right thing. Sterling does not deserve to won this team and the players need to be outspoken about that. Enjoy that fishin!

  7. Ross says:

    If the Clippers play tough and clean not as dirty as they did they could have more chances of winning. Their emotion got the better of them and ended up hurting opposing players. my opinion is that CP caused the injury on Serge.. Blake could have broken a few arms with his antics, Barnes should be playing UFC.

  8. okctofinals says:

    I’m not a Clippers fan (obviously) but I have a ton of respect for Chris Paul and hope the drama with their owner ends soon.

  9. TheKush says:

    In terms of basketball I don’t think they would have won the Spurs would have went to hack a Jordan. OKC vs. the spurs will be much better especially if Ibaka isn’t injured. I have OKC in 6 games

  10. Phillip says:

    I wish they would relocate the team to another deserving city. LA has never needed two teams. Even before this scandal the Paper Clips is what I remember. This way a deserving city gets a team that’s trying hard to win.

  11. Chris says:

    Officials did some modifications to the track, roller coaster flew off

  12. celentano says:

    and doc said; life is like a box of chocolat!