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Lack of depth dooms Doc Rivers, Clippers

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AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

SAN ANTONIO -- Doc Rivers talked about the difference between the regular season and the postseason ad nauseum over the past six months.

None of the Clippers' woes during the regular season seemed to bother him much as he pointed toward the playoffs. Everything would be different when the new season rolled around.

What about the Clippers' lack of depth and a nonexistent second unit?

"I don't look at the playoffs as you have a second unit," Rivers said. "You're going to put individual players in, and when they play well, they stay in, and when they don't, they come out."

It was Rivers' way of essentially saying he didn't have a second unit but instead had three individuals (Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers and Glen Davis) that he trusted to come off the bench in the playoffs, and he would find a way to mix and match them with his starters, thereby negating the fact he had no depth.

At least that was the plan anyway. But few things in the way of personnel decisions have gone as planned for Rivers this season.

There were many reasons why the San Antonio Spurs blew out the Clippers 100-73 on Friday to take a 2-1 series lead heading into Game 4 in San Antonio on Sunday. The Clippers' lack of depth may not be the one that grabs the headlines, but it's why the Clippers' postseason was always destined to fall short of expectations -- whether it was in the first round against the Spurs or later. It was an inevitability set in motion a long time ago by a series of errors made by Rivers, the general manager, which put Rivers, the coach, in a hopeless position.

On the same night when the Clippers set franchise playoff records for fewest points (73), lowest field percentage (34.1) and fewest points in a quarter (11 in the third), Paul Pierce was leading the Washington Wizards to a 3-0 series lead by scoring 11 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter.

Pierce could have and probably should have been a member of the Clippers this offseason, but Rivers instead gave the team's full mid-level exception to Spencer Hawes, signing the center to a four-year deal worth $23 million. Hawes is currently buried at the end of the bench and scored his first two points of the postseason when Rivers played him in the final minutes of Friday's blowout loss.

In addition to Hawes, Rivers signed Jordan Farmar, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Jared Cunningham and Ekpe Udoh in the offseason. He also selected C.J. Wilcox in the first round. Farmar and Cunningham were waived before midseason; Douglas-Roberts along with Reggie Bullock and a 2017 second-round pick were traded for Rivers' son, Austin, who seemed destined for a D-League assignment in Boston after being jettisoned by New Orleans. Udoh and Wilcox have rarely played, averaging the fewest minutes on the team.

Rivers tried to make up for his poor offseason decisions by signing the likes of Dahntay Jones, Jordan Hamilton and Lester Hudson during the season, but they haven't made much of an impact outside of pushing starters in practice and cheering them from the bench during games.

Jared Dudley could have been a veteran contributor off the bench this postseason after recovering from a right knee fracture, but Rivers traded him along with a 2017 first-round draft pick for cap relief.

So not only do the Clippers not have a bench, they have no draft picks this year or next year to help shore up that front. Not that Rivers' track record in selecting players or even playing them for that matter has been anything to brag about so far.

On Friday, the Clippers' second unit through three quarters was 2-of-20 from the field for 10 points. Boris Diaw outscored their entire bench by himself entering the fourth quarter. While Chris Paul having more turnovers (6) than assists (4) is an oddity that could be chalked up to a bad night, the non-existent play of the Clippers' bench has basically come to be expected.

The Clippers are as healthy as they've been, but the starters looked as tired as they've been all season in Game 3, as Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and J.J. Redick were averaging over 40 minutes per game through the first two games of the series. They would have hit that number again had they not fallen behind by 37 points, forcing Rivers to empty the bench and give his starters a rest.

"I just know we got our butts kicked," Rivers said. "They played terrific basketball, and we didn't. I thought we had great shots to start the game. We have had this a couple of times this year, but not very often where we lose our spirit because we can't make shots. That is what I thought happened as the game went on every time we missed a shot we played less defense. We will look at the film and see if we can fix it. I know we can."

Rivers maintained that Friday's blowout was more of an aberration than a trend. It was only one game and nothing carried over from a heartbreaking loss in Game 2 and nothing he thinks will carry over into Game 4.

"I think we were ready, but I think they were more ready," Rivers said. "I think Coach [Gregg Popovich] did a great job getting their guys ready and I clearly didn't do a good enough job getting our guys ready. We are not that bad."

While Rivers, the coach, wanted to take the blame for Friday's loss, the fact is that Rivers, the general manager, has put him in a difficult position this postseason. The Clippers might not be as bad as they looked in getting blown out, but the bench was just as bad they've been all season and it was bound to hurt them sooner or later this postseason.