LOS ANGELES -- At some point, the Los Angeles Clippers will be forced to face reality.
They will wake up with no more games to play and no escape from the fact that they play for a team with an unclear owner and an uncertain future.
On Sunday, while the Clippers were playing the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 4 of their Western Conference semifinal series, Donald Sterling was telling Anderson Cooper on CNN that he is sorry for his comments and isn’t a racist. Shelly Sterling was telling Barbara Walters on ABC that she plans to divorce Donald and fight to keep the Clippers. And Dick Parsons, the former chairman of Time Warner and Citigroup, was flying to Los Angeles to assume his new job as the league-appointed interim CEO of the Clippers.
There will be a time when every twist and turn of this national soap opera will be something more than background noise to Clippers players pursuing a championship. They’re hoping that time will be next month rather than next week, although it looked destined for the latter on Sunday when the Clippers found themselves down 22 points in the first quarter and down 16 with about nine minutes left in the game.
The Clippers’ season appeared on the brink of collapse when coach Doc Rivers called a timeout early in the fourth quarter and asked his players to look at each other and trust in each other. This game, this series and their season were not over.
"We all sat down and you looked at everybody’s face and nobody wanted to go home," Glen Davis said. "Everybody was saying, 'Hey, we’re going to win this game.'"
Rivers also made some key adjustments. He put Chris Paul on Kevin Durant and rode with Darren Collison, Jamal Crawford and Danny Granger the entire fourth quarter. Paul made life hard for Durant, who took only five shots in the final period, while Russell Westbrook went 4-for-10. Collison, going up against his former college teammate in Westbrook, scored 12 points in the final period to spark the Clippers’ improbable comeback.
Clippers players were still in shock as they sat at their lockers after the game. There wasn’t so much a celebration in the locker room as there was a big sigh of relief. They knew what going down 3-1 in the series and traveling to Oklahoma City in the morning meant. They all called Sunday's game a "must-win" and knew if they had lost there was a good chance it was the last time they would play a home game this season.
"It was a must-win for us, and somehow we won that game," J.J. Redick said. "I mean, you’re walking back in the tunnel afterward. You’re obviously elated, and you’re slapping [high-]fives, but you’re also thinking, 'What just happened?' so it feels great.
"You always look at every game as a building block. I think you never really arrive. You’re always becoming a team until you get to that finish line, and, hopefully, we use this as a stepping stone."
The Clippers looked like they were destined for the same postseason fate that befell them the past two playoffs, in which their season came to an end with four straight losses. Last postseason, the Memphis Grizzlies beat them four straight after they went up 2-0 in their first-round series, and two seasons ago, the San Antonio Spurs swept the Clippers in the second round. Perhaps last season the Clippers would have crumbled under the pressure and surrendered to the inevitable, but not this season, not after everything they’ve been through.
"We’re resilient. This is our year," Matt Barnes said. "It shows our growth. I don’t know if we win a game like this last year, honestly. We just kept believing and kept talking to each other. It’s a full team effort."
The Clippers have found ways to come back throughout this season. They came back from 14 points down in the fourth quarter on the road against the Phoenix Suns to clinch the Pacific Division last month. They came back from 12 points down to beat the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of their first-round series. They’ve had 14 comeback wins this season, but this was by far their largest -- in both margin and meaning.
"It finally clicked because we didn’t want to lose," Davis said. "But we have to have that mindset that we don’t want to lose from the tip. You have a different look and a different energy on every possession. We have to realize that being a young team. You have to experience that sense of urgency and feel it, and we felt it today."
After the game was over, Rivers let out a big sigh as he sat at the postgame news conference podium and was asked if he wanted to give an opening statement.
"I want a beer," he said.
It was a natural response after Sunday’s incredible comeback win and the seemingly never-ending soap opera that continues to revolve around this team.
There will be a time when that soap opera will be at the forefront of the minds of the Clippers' players and coaches, but for now, the spotlight belongs to them and their season will continue.