OKLAHOMA CITY -- Long before Donald Sterling made racist remarks that ended up online and earned the Los Angeles Clippers' owner a lifetime ban from the NBA, Doc Rivers warned his team about "emotional hijacks."
What Rivers was referring to, however, had nothing to do with anything off the court. It was about the way the players responded when things didn't go their way on the court.
When Rivers watched film of the Clippers after arriving in Los Angeles last June, the one thing he noticed time after time was the Clippers letting one bad call or one bad play stick with them. They would waste the next few plays complaining to officials about a bad call or they would bicker at one another, and suddenly they were out of the game.
After getting through the ultimate "emotional hijack" off the court, finding a way to win Game 7 of their first-round series against the Golden State Warriors and blowing out the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1 of the second round, the Clippers actually let the on-court distractions get the best of them in a 112-101 loss in Game 2 on Wednesday.
"The playoffs are a single-possession game," Rivers said. "Every single possession, you have to have great focus and you have to be locked in. Today we were not. I thought it was because of all the clutter today. We were upset at the officials, we were upset at everything, instead of turning our anger toward the opponent and focus. Tonight we just didn't have it, but I've got to give them credit. I don't know if we didn't have it or they took it from us. I thought they were very good tonight. They were physical, they moved the ball, so give them a lot of credit."
The Clippers were still talking about some of that clutter after the game, amazed in particular that Chris Paul got a technical at the end of the game while he was sitting on the bench.
"I don't know, man," Paul said when asked about the technical, smiling and looking off to the side. "Did you see it? What did you get from it? I'm going to save my money, man. He already got $2,000 with the tech."
Paul, however, did admit the Clippers had to do a better job of getting past calls with which they don't agree and focus on playing their game, which they did not do Wednesday.
"We got to be better," Paul said. "We can't worry about the bad whistles. You start off the game with bad turnovers, and me and the ref get a foul and then I get another one and go to the bench. You could tell it was going to be a long night."
Not only were the Clippers allowing the officials to get the better of them, but Blake Griffin struggled, shooting 5-of-13 from the field for 15 points and grabbing only six rebounds. The player who came in third in MVP voting certainly didn't play like the third-best player in the league on a night when the MVP, Kevin Durant, received his trophy and scored 32 points, with 17 coming in the first quarter.
"He missed point-blank looks at the rim, open shots," Rivers said. "He'll get those shots and make them nine times out of 10 on most nights, so you live with those."
Rivers told Griffin to continue shooting and take the shots he had. He would rather him play his game and take and miss 30 shots than play tentative and shoot 13 times, as he did Wednesday. Griffin admits he still has a hard time trying to shoot his way out of slumps during games and is more likely to defer if his shot isn't falling early, as was the case Wednesday after he missed his first three shots in the first quarter.
"They played hard and physical, but you've got to do it back," Rivers said. "I didn't think we did it back. I thought we weren't very physical tonight or mentally tough tonight either."
The Clippers were also done in by the combination of Durant and Russell Westbrook, who combined for 63 points. Rivers, however, didn't have an issue with those two players going off. He knows that's going to happen. What can't happen if the Clippers have any chance to win this series is to allow Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins to make easy baskets.
"It's hard, but you know that's why their names are Westbrook and Durant," Rivers said. "They're very good players. I still believe that's only 63 points. You can still win the game, and we've beaten them before when they've both had great games. I didn't like how they scored. It was too easy. I thought we had way too many mental defensive breakdowns. I wasted three timeouts in a row because we said we were going to switch twice and both times Durant is laying it in."
After failing to avoid the clutter on the court Wednesday, the Clippers successfully sidestepped questions about Sterling and team ownership after the game and promised that the focus would be back on the court when the series resumed in Los Angeles on Friday.
"We'll look at the tape and see what we did well," Paul said. "We wanted to try come here and get two. We knew we had to get at least one. We didn't play like ourselves today, but we'll be ready Game 3."