OAKLAND, Calif. -- Over the past six days, the Los Angeles Clippers have leaned on each other to get through one of the most chaotic, grueling and draining weeks they had ever experienced.
With an opportunity to close out the week and the Golden State Warriors early, they went in their own directions Thursday at Oracle Arena.
After finally finding their way together off the court, they lost it on the court during their 100-99 loss to the Warriors, who forced a decisive Game 7 back in Los Angeles on Saturday night.
Throughout this season, Clippers coach Doc Rivers has talked about trust. All championship teams have it. They trust in each other, they trust in the system and they trust in what each other will do within that system.
Sometimes the Clippers have that trust, and sometimes they don’t.
On Thursday, as Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick battled through injuries and foul trouble -- with the latter two fouling out in the fourth quarter -- the Clippers decided to go in their own separate directions in search of a victory.
“We've just got to trust each other,” Rivers said after the game. “I thought the third quarter, we stopped trusting. We were basically an iso basketball team. No fun to watch, and we're not very good at it.”
One of the biggest reasons Rivers was pried away from the Boston Celtics last summer and brought to Los Angeles was to lead the Clippers through moments like this. Not only does he have a championship ring to his name, during that 2008 title run with the Celtics his team was pushed to Game 7 in the first two rounds.
During his time in Boston, Rivers coached in seven Game 7s and sported a 4-3 record.
“Well, I've lost some and I've won some,” Rivers said. “So the experience is you have to come to play. I've won some on the road, I've lost some at home, and you've got to go play. You've just got to go out there and play the game and be aggressive and try to take the game.
“When you're at home, you can't rely on home. That doesn't work. It's going to be great to be at home. We'll be back in our safe haven now, and the fans will give us great energy, but you've still got to perform -- and that is the bottom line.”
The only player on the Clippers roster with a championship ring is Glen Davis, who was with Rivers when the Celtics won in 2008 and when they lost Game 7 of the NBA Finals in 2010.
Davis thought his 2008 team learned how to play in the playoffs as they were pushed to the brink of elimination. After Thursday, he isn’t quite sure if the Clippers are learning the same lesson.
“We knew playing in a Game 7 we’d have home court advantage, but, at the same time, we had to go out there and make it happen,” Davis told ESPNLosAngeles.com. “The more and more that series went on, we realized that every possession counts. Every possession and every moment on the court counts. I think we, as a team ... I don’t think we understand that right now.”
Rivers has constantly talked about “emotional hijacks” with the Clippers and their tendency to get too high and too low during the normal ebb and flow of a game.
“When things go up, we have to keep our composure and make sure we stay levelheaded and do what we know how to do and play Clippers basketball,” Davis said. “I think we get away from that. I think too much we try individually to get it done. Everybody wants to win, but they don’t understand we have to win it together.
“And that’s giving yourself up for the next person. I think we saw today that’s how we need to play in order to win.”
It was an odd game that resembled the first game of the series in many ways, as Paul and Griffin were in foul trouble early, with Griffin fouling out late in the fourth quarter. When Paul and Griffin aren’t able to penetrate and create plays for their teammates, the offense, as well as the trust, crumbles.
“I think just ball movement and trusting our offense,” Griffin said when asked what the Clippers need to do to be successful in Game 7. “I think, honestly, it starts defensively for us. When we get stops, we kind of get into a better flow and a better rhythm. It's not just coming down and a matter of calling a play and doing what we do; it's a lot of things.”
As much as the Clippers want to consistently trust each other and the system, that level of trust doesn’t come easily or quickly. It comes over time -- and in moments like they will experience during Game 7 on Saturday.
“Experience is one of the main factors of understanding consistency,” Davis said. “Situations like this can build character, and hopefully we can get it now without having to sit out and wait for next year.”