LOS ANGELES -- As the final seconds mercifully ticked off the clock Tuesday night, the expression on Doc Rivers’ face didn’t change much. He patiently sat and watched as the game and the fourth quarter played out as he had feared it would and warned his team that it could.
After the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Los Angeles Clippers, 116-103, Rivers stood outside the Clippers’ locker room with an almost helpless look on his face as he tried to explain what had just happened in his regular-season debut as the Clippers' coach.
“Did I expect this to be a tough game? I thought this would be a brutally tough game,” Rivers said. “I kept saying that all week.
“[The Lakers] heard for four or five months how good we are. I told our guys, ‘Tonight we’re fighting human nature.’ I told them, ‘I’m telling you, we’re fighting human nature tonight. That team is coming after you with everything they have, and I don’t know if you can match that.’ And at the end of the day, we did not.”
Every player on the Lakers played with a chip on their shoulder Tuesday, while the Clippers came out like a team that believed the Lakers would just roll over after being swept in the teams’ four-game regular-season series last year and losing by a double-digit average margin in the process.
Clippers players actually had difficulty rattling off the names of the Lakers players that beat them after the game. Xavier Henry had a career-high 22 points after playing D-League games last season in Iowa. Jordan Farmar had 16 points after spending last season in Turkey. And Shawne Williams, who wasn’t in the league last season, was the Lakers’ starting power forward. At the end of the night, the Lakers’ bench had outscored the Clippers’ bench 76-34.
“We were not ready tonight,” Rivers said. “I told our guys before the game. Those are pros on the other side and they’ve been told for months how good you’re going to be, how they’re not going to be good and they’re not going to have Kobe and all that stuff. You know they were going to play like this is the world championship, with that type of energy, and we never matched it.”
The Clippers are no longer a team on the rise. After Rivers came to Los Angeles from the Boston Celtics and Chris Paul and Blake Griffin were re-signed, this team catapulted itself toward the top of the list of contenders in the league. Outside of the Miami Heat, there isn’t a trendier pick to win the Finals than the Clippers. That means teams are now going to play the Clippers as if they’ve achieved greatness -- even though, as we all know, they haven’t won a thing yet.
“It’s a good lesson for us,” Rivers said. “The good thing is we have 81 more games. The bad thing is everyone is going to play us that way. When you’re anointed before doing it, people are going to attack you and we’re going to have to get used to it.
“We’re going to have to get used to that energy every night, because people are going to play you like you’ve won something.”
Paul said he heard Rivers’ message before the game and understands the Clippers are now the hunted rather than the hunters. If the Clippers don’t understand that by now, they might have bigger issues than fixing their defensive.
“If you don’t know that, you’re in the wrong business,” Paul said. “I’m not my son. I’m not little Chris. I’m a grown man. I understand what’s happening and what the game's going to entail.
“Every time you go out you got to be hungry. I don’t care who you’re playing against, you have to play like that. We’ll find it.”
Rivers went through the transition of coaching a talented Boston team that was pursuing its first title and was treated like champions before the season ever started. That team actually did end up winning a title.
Now Rivers is waiting to see how his team in Los Angeles responds to a similar challenge.
“I can only tell them. I can’t play,” Rivers said. “They’ll get it. Those guys [in Boston] were a lot older, and this is [the Clippers’] first time going through something like that, and it’s going to be every night. That has to be learned and we’ll learn that. It’s going to be every night; teams are going to get excited to play you.
“I thought teams played us harder the first year in Boston than after we won it because the first year people took it personal that we were anointed. I think pros take that more personal. Once you win it, they still want to beat the champs ... but they hate anointed champs.”