Impact of Doc Rivers felt in many ways

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
11:38
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- On paper, the Los Angeles Clippers will end this season with nothing more than a one- or two-game improvement over last season's win total.

Tuesday's 117-105 victory against the Denver Nuggets gave the Clippers a franchise-best 57 wins. That’s one more win than last season's 56, with another game to play.

[+] EnlargeDoc Rivers
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty ImagesIt has been clear since the day Doc Rivers arrived that the Clippers are definitely his team.
The impact that Clippers coach Doc Rivers has made on this team, however, cannot be quantified with a one- or two-game improvement in the regular-season standings. He wasn't brought in to help the Clippers win regular-season games. He was hired to win playoff games and ultimately a championship.

Rivers was indifferent to the Clippers' franchise-best win total. It wasn't a goal he or his players had when they broke training camp six months ago.

"No one's talked about it," Rivers said. "I can tell you I haven't talked about it. Winning our division is great. We didn't make a big deal about it, but it's still something you've done. Breaking the franchise record is big, I guess, but I don't think it's that big of a deal."

Before Rivers joined the Clippers as the head coach and senior vice president of player personnel, the ongoing debate was whether the Clippers were Chris Paul's team or Blake Griffin's team? Who wielded the most power? Who was the one behind certain acquisitions and personnel moves?

All of that died the moment Rivers walked through the door. He had a résumé that dwarfed that of Vinny Del Negro and wielded far more power in the front office than his predecessor ever did.

That was never more evident than during the NBA trade deadline in February, when the team's charter plane was delayed on the tarmac as Rivers worked the phones on possible deals.

"It's one thing when your general manager is trying to trade you," said Matt Barnes, who was nearly dealt to the New York Knicks. "It's another when your coach is the general manager and trying to trade you."

This is Rivers' team. He walks into the locker room with an NBA championship ring and two NBA Finals appearances to his name. When he talks to Paul and Griffin -- two players who have never made it out of the second round of the playoffs in their careers -- they listen.

"The X's and O's and the things on the court, they speak for themselves," Griffin said. "But the mental side that he brings and his experience as a coach and the stories that he tells and the way he sees situations and reads basketball situations is interesting and unique.

"Every time he speaks at practice, it's a learning experience for me. Whether it's a short speech he didn't really give much thought into or something he really wants to hammer home to us, it's a learning experience."

Under Del Negro, who had just as little postseason success as his players, the Clippers would routinely change their defensive principles depending on the opponent. It was a practice that would irritate Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Del Negro also didn’t endear himself to Jordan for sitting him in the fourth quarter of games because of his shortcomings at the free throw line.

Rivers has a different approach.

"I'm just trying to get our guys to be a team," Rivers said. "That's what we have to be. Good teams stay together at the end of the day. And the ones that aren't fall apart when the pressure comes. All we talked about all year is being one -- the oneness. We've talked about that a lot."

When Rivers took the job, he had a few goals. He wanted the Clippers to shore up their perimeter defense. He wanted them to be an up-tempo, high-scoring team. He wanted them to establish a home-court advantage. And he wanted them to be resilient and not get down on themselves after bad games or bad plays.

The Clippers probably will finish the season leading the league in scoring and 3-point defense.

They will end with a franchise-best 34 wins at home, good for best in the West and second best in the league.

And they are one of only three teams to never lose more than two games in a row this season.

It's quite the turnaround for a team that gave up the deep ball at will in 2012-13 and saw its season come to an end in the playoffs with four straight losses to the Memphis Grizzlies.

When the Clippers gathered for training camp in San Diego in October, Rivers told his players to imagine themselves as champions. He wanted them to think of themselves as champions. It's a vision he has continued to push this season and will ramp up with the playoffs starting this weekend.

"We talk about it, and I believe we should have that urgency," Rivers said. "I don't believe you can win a title thinking we're getting better this year and this is a good year and we're building and we're going to someday be good. You can't win that way."

Arash Markazi

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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