MINNEAPOLIS -- Don’t ask Doc Rivers about injured players.
It’s a dead-end road that usually leads to a cul-de-sac of shoulder shrugs and I-don’t-knows.
If you’re injured, you’re essentially invisible to the Los Angeles Clippers coach unless you are able to put on a uniform.
“Doc always says he doesn’t talk to you if you’re hurt,” Chris Paul said. “It’s funny. I’ve never been on a team like that. Usually when a guy’s out, guys in the locker room are saying it’s going to be tough tonight without this guy, but we rally around each other.”
Before Monday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Clippers found out they would be without Blake Griffin, who is battling back spasms, and Jamal Crawford, who is dealing with a sore left Achilles tendon. They joined J.J. Redick, who has missed the past 23 games with a bulging disk in his lower back, and Danny Granger, who was sent home for the final three games of this road trip with a strained left hamstring.
With 10 active players, the Clippers beat the Timberwolves 114-104, and led by as many as 24 points in the fourth quarter. After the game when Rivers was asked about Griffin, he once again shrugged his shoulders.
“I didn’t ask, I didn’t even have to make a decision,” Rivers said. “[Clippers trainer Jasen Powell] came to me and said he was out.”
Coaches are typically more invested in the injuries and recovery of their players, but Rivers is adamant that when players are out, Powell will let him know when they are able to play. Until then, it does him and the team no good to worry or think about what could have been.
“No matter what the obstacle is, you keep playing,” Rivers said. “We have enough guys. That’s what we talked about today. We didn’t mention the injuries. We never said anything. I didn’t even tell [Jared Dudley] he was starting [in place of Griffin]. One of my coaches told him he was starting. I just think you go out and play, and it will work out if you believe that and you play well.”
It’s this mindset that has helped the Clippers withstand injuries this season not just to Griffin and Paul, but also every player on the roster except for DeAndre Jordan, who has started every game.
Darren Collison, who is starting at shooting guard because Redick and Crawford are both out, finished with 28 points and seven assists Monday, while Paul had 22 points and nine assists. Dudley, who hadn’t started since Jan. 18 and had completely fallen out of the rotation, finished with 16 points.
“Before we ran out on the floor tonight and we were in the huddle, I said, ‘Fellas, let’s be who we are,'” Paul said. “We got who we got and keep the train moving. No excuses, the next guy comes in and plays.”
When Paul was out, Griffin showed he was an MVP candidate, and if Griffin is out, Paul might once again prove he’s an MVP candidate, but the real MVP candidate on the team might be the one guy who won’t get a single Coach of the Year vote.
“Doc Rivers is that good,” Crawford said. “There are no excuses. It’s Doc. I think I’ve had a great year. Blake went to an MVP level. Chris is having another one of his years, but Doc is the true MVP of this team. He keeps us prepared. He keeps us locked in. We know exactly what we’re supposed to do night in and night out. He sets that standard for us.”
Rivers not only doesn’t have time for injured players (he sent Granger home when it was discovered he would be out for a week), he also doesn’t have time for distractions. When Glen “Big Baby” Davis was making a scene after being taken out of Saturday’s game against the Houston Rockets, Rivers kicked him off the bench and had him escorted back to the locker room by team security. Afterward, he spoke to Davis and Davis apologized to the team.
“Doc is Doc,” Davis said. “I’m an emotional guy and sometimes I let my emotions get the best of me. Sometimes it can be a good thing and sometimes it can be a bad thing, and in this case it was a bad thing. I need to get better. I want to help this team. I don’t want to just be here. I want to be sure I can play Clipper basketball.”
What it means to play “Clipper basketball” has certainly changed over the years, but under Rivers it has meant playing the same kind of basketball no matter what lineup is on the floor.
“It’s huge because you just never know what’s going to happen in any game in the playoffs,” Paul said. “It gives you the confidence to know that you can do it. It doesn’t mean one guy has to do too much. Other guys get opportunities and minutes. It’s fun that way, I’m telling you it’s so much fun. Regardless of who’s on the court, we play our way.”