Los Angeles Clippers: Doc Rivers

LOS ANGELES -- It sounded more like the title of a horror film than a projection for next season.

As Dick Parsons, the interim CEO of the Los Angeles Clippers, testified in state court Tuesday about the uncertain future of the team, he outlined an accelerated "death spiral" for the Clippers if Donald Sterling were to remain the owner.

"If none of your sponsors want to sponsor you," Parsons said. "And your coach doesn't want to coach for you and your players don’t want to play for you, what do you have?"

Parsons wasn’t just hypothesizing about losing sponsors, coaches and players if Sterling remained the owner. He testified that he has talked to many of the parties involved and they have told him their commitment to the team is only as strong as the team’s commitment to moving forward without Sterling.

"We're in so long as Donald Sterling is out," Parsons said when describing his conversation with several sponsors that have yet to commit to the team for the upcoming season.

(Read full post)

LOS ANGELES -- Veteran guard Delonte West, who did not play in the NBA this past season, headlines the Los Angeles Clippers' roster for the 2014 NBA Summer League, the team announced Monday.

West, who played for four teams in eight seasons, played for Doc Rivers and the Boston Celtics for four seasons. He started his career in Boston after being drafted by the Celtics in the first round in 2004 and played there for three seasons before being dealt to Seattle in 2007 as part of the Ray Allen trade. West later returned to Boston for the 2010-11 season.

The Clippers' Summer League squad will be without this season's first-round pick, C.J. Wilcox, as well as this past draft's first-round choice, Reggie Bullock. Bullock will not participate, as he is still in rehabilitation for the right quad soreness he experienced last season. Wilcox will be out due to a right shoulder injury. Both players are being held out for precautionary reasons, according to the team.

The NBA Summer League in Las Vegas will run from July 11 to 21 at the Thomas & Mack Center and COX Pavilion on the campus of the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

How C.J. Wilcox fits the Clippers

June, 27, 2014
Jun 27
PLAYA VISTA, Calif. -- In a bold and surprising move, the Los Angeles Clippers selected Washington shooting guard C.J. Wilcox with the 28th pick of the 2014 NBA draft.

The decision raised some eyebrows because the Clippers already have shooting guards J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford and Reggie Bullock under contract and needed help at other positions, particularly in the frontcourt.

[+] EnlargeCJ Wilcox
Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY SportsThe Clippers wanted to take the best player available and weren't focused on position needs when they drafted C.J. Wilcox.
Darren Collison (point guard), Danny Granger (small forward), Hedo Turkoglu (power forward) and Glen Davis (forward/center) are all entering free agency on July 1, and the rest of the bench is barren -- except at shooting guard, where the Clippers also have a team option on Willie Green.

According to head coach and president of basketball operations Doc Rivers, the team wasn’t concerned with finding a player that fit positionally, and they instead focused on finding the best player available.

“C.J. is a great shooter and I value shooting,” Rivers said. “You know, when you're at [No.] 28, I don't think you can afford to pick [for] what needs you have. I have never thought that.

“We have Jamal and J.J., but [Wilcox is] the best player, and I think you can always make it work when you can get the best player. I thought as far as for shooting, in this league, you need it, you can never have enough of it, and I'm a big believer in it. I thought he may have been the best shooter in the draft, if not No. 1, No. 2.”

It’s not difficult to see Rivers’ rationale. Wilcox averaged 18.5 points per game and posted a 60 percent true shooting number last season. He’s certainly one of the best marksmen in the draft, shooting 39.1 percent on 7.2 3-point attempts per game. Already an elite spot-up shooter (he shot 43 percent on spot-up jumpers last season), he has the ability to pop out or curl off screens into open space and also pull up out of pick-and-rolls. He elevates nicely on his jumper and has a quick release and deep range.

For a team that ranked just 22nd in 3-point shooting percentage, Wilcox is a smart and useful addition. He is somewhat of a one-trick pony offensively, though he does his one trick exceptionally well. He isn’t much of a slasher -- 72.1 percent of his shots were jumpers last season, and 52.9 percent of his shots were 3-pointers -- as evidenced by his 4.1 free-throw attempts per 40 minutes, a below-average mark for a scorer of his stature.

Wilcox improved as a ball handler over the course of his NCAA career, and though he can’t create his own shot reliably or facilitate much, he takes advantage of unsuspecting defenders and lazy closeouts to penetrate into the paint. His 37.5-inch vertical gives him sneaky explosion, providing him with an edge when finishing at the rim in transition and half-court settings.

Though only 6-foot-5, he has a 6-foot-10 wingspan, implying he can defend small forwards at first glance. However, his thin frame holds him back. He’s easily overpowered when bigger wings drive or post up, and he can’t hold his own on the glass. Unless he bulks up another 10-15 pounds, Wilcox will probably only be able to defend 2-guards. He can feel asleep and lose his man occasionally, but on balance, he’s a solid defender who uses his length properly (he averaged 1.0 block and 1.0 steal).

In a conference call with reporters at the Clippers' training facility Thursday night, Wilcox compared his game to Danny Green, Ray Allen and Richard Hamilton. Green is the most realistic comparison, as he’s a 3-and-D specialist. Rivers was hesitant to praise Wilcox’s defense prematurely, as he said there’s a steep learning curve for all rookies defensively, but he sees his value as a two-way player.

“He’s long, he’s athletic, and it’s rare when you get a shooter like that, not only he’s a catch-and-shoot guy, too, that wants to defend. That’s a great combination,” Rivers said. “Like most of the time you get a shooter but [he] can’t defend or a shooter but [he’s] not athletic. We have a great shooter who can defend and is athletic, so I thought that was important.”

In many ways, Wilcox is a carbon copy of Bullock, who was selected with the No. 25 pick in last season’s draft.

Both projected as spot-up shooters with limited ball-handling and shot-creation skills. Neither was a stout defender in college, but both were average to slightly above-average because of their relative length. The issue, when comparing the two, is that Wilcox isn’t as good of a shooter as Bullock in college, is smaller in both height and weight, and is older by a few months.

Age is the main concern with Wilcox. He’s 23 and will turn 24 in December. Optimists will say he is more experienced and ready to contribute right away. Pessimists, however, will point to the fact that prospects that old rarely see significant improvement and that his ceiling isn’t much higher than his current ability. Wilcox disagrees.

“I come in with a different approach and a different understanding of how things work sometimes -- not always getting what you want,” Wilcox said. “I had to work from the bottom to the top. That's kind of always how I've been. Even though I'm 23, I feel like my game can expand in so many ways.”

(Read full post)

In draft, Clippers seek help in front court

June, 25, 2014
Jun 25
LOS ANGELES -- For years, they were an NBA lottery regular, consistently picking in the top 14 and almost as consistently picking the wrong player.

Those days are a distant memory now as the Clippers, for the fourth straight season, will not have one of the top 24 picks in the NBA draft. Such is life when you're one of the top five teams in the league and not a perennial bottom-dweller.

The Clippers have only one pick in this year's draft, the 28th overall pick in the first round, but are interested in moving up or down depending on which prospects are still available in the bottom half of the first round. Here are the five players the Clippers have their eye on coming into Thursday's draft:

Kyle Anderson, "point" forward, 6-foot-9, 230 pounds, UCLA

[+] EnlargeAnderson
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsKyle Anderson is an intriguing prospect for the Clippers because of his ballhandling ability at 6-9.
The Clippers really like Anderson and probably would be willing to move up a few slots to get him if he's still there in the early 20s (he isn't expected to fall to No. 28). Anderson is a unique point forward that wouldn't necessarily address the Clippers' frontcourt depth issues but would be a great addition to the team. He has a high basketball IQ, great court vision and always seems to make the right play, which would make him a perfect "Lob City" fit to run the fast break from one of the three perimeter positions. Not only does Doc Rivers like his decision-making ability, but his solid midrange game and improved 3-point shooting are also intriguing. Rivers has talked about wanting to upgrade the frontcourt depth and the small forward position, and Anderson could conceivably do both.

Glenn Robinson III, small forward, 6-foot-7, 211 pounds, Michigan

There might not be anyone on the Clippers' board that fits "Lob City" better than Robinson. He is the one of the best athletes in the draft, with great length and leaping ability that would make him fit right in alongside Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Robinson is a second-generation player (his dad is former NBA forward Glenn Robinson) who has a high basketball IQ and comes into the NBA already knowing what it takes to be a professional, which are traits that go a long way with Rivers, who will ultimately make the pick. Rivers also comes into the draft looking to upgrade the frontcourt and add a solid wing player, which all works in Robinson's favor if he's available when the Clippers pick.

Cleanthony Early, small forward, 6-foot-7, 210 pounds, Wichita State

[+] EnlargeCleanthony Early
Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY SportsCleanthony Early can score in a variety of ways, and his athleticism is something the Clippers like.
Early is another athletic small forward prospect the Clippers really like. Early can score in a variety of ways and had several highlight-reel dunks during Wichita State's postseason run. He averaged 16.4 points and 5.9 rebounds as a senior and had 31 points in the Shockers' loss to Kentucky in the NCAA tournament. The Clippers were impressed not only with Early's workout but also his interview.

Jerami Grant, small forward, 6-foot-8, 214 pounds, Syracuse

If the Clippers are looking for a small forward prospect with some upside that might not be ready to play immediately, they could pick Grant. He's one of the best and most explosive athletes in the draft, has great leaping ability and is excellent in the open court. He also has a solid midrange game, which Rivers is looking for. It also doesn't hurt that he's the son of former NBA player Harvey Grant, who played against Rivers. The biggest issue for Grant is his offensive game, which is certainly lacking, and he doesn't shoot 3-pointers, which is something Rivers is looking for in his small forwards.

Spencer Dinwiddie, point guard, 6-foot-6, 205 pounds, Colorado

The Clippers aren't expected to go with a guard with their first-round pick, but if they do it would probably be Dinwiddie. He would have been a higher pick if he hadn't suffered a torn ACL in January. Dinwiddie was averaging 14.7 points and shooting 41.3 from 3-point range when he suffered his injury. He would certainly benefit from learning under Chris Paul. The Clippers also don't know whether they'll be able to re-sign Darren Collison, who plans to opt out of the last year of his contract.

Paul distraught as clock expires on Clips

May, 16, 2014
May 16
Chris PaulAndrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)"You don't get a chance to be on teams like this that often, you know," Chris Paul said.

LOS ANGELES -- Chris Paul was able to look around the room this time.

The blank stare that had come over his face after his nightmarish final seconds in Game 5 had been replaced by the angry glare that comes with an early vacation he has become all too familiar with in his nine seasons in the NBA.

As Paul faces a long offseason with more questions than he cares to answer about the team to which he has committed at least the next three years of his career, he will enter his 10th season in the league having never made it past the second round of the playoffs after the Los Angeles Clippers were eliminated by the Oklahoma City Thunder 104-98 in Thursday’s Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals.

Paul took the loss particularly hard. He blamed himself for the team’s collapse in Game 5 after two crucial turnovers and a foul helped give the Thunder an improbable comeback victory. He also put the blame on his shoulders for the Clippers’ inability to hold a 16-point first-half lead in an elimination game at home.

He tried his best to hold back tears as he said goodbye to his teammates for the last time this season in the locker room. Paul has been around long enough to know he can’t take playing on teams this talented, and for a coach like Doc Rivers, for granted. This was his best shot at winning a title, or at least getting to his first conference final, and it ended at the same stop it had in the past.

“It's tough,” Paul said. “You don't get a chance to be on teams like this that often, you know. Oklahoma City absolutely deserves it. We had a really, really good team, a great team. Before the game, Doc talked about it. I told somebody at halftime: It's crazy -- you play all season long, and the last few games we really started to figure out who our team was and how to play. And it's crazy that it's over. Man, we really do have a great team, a collective group of players. It's tough to realize that it's over again.”

The sting of this loss, however, was compounded by more off-the-court drama than any one team should ever have to deal with. It began three weeks ago when TMZ released a racist rant by Donald Sterling, which led to the league to ban the Clippers owner for life and begin the process of forcing him to sell the team.

It’s a story that continues to grow and change every day, completely overshadowing the greatest season in Clippers history and muddying the waters of what could be a bright future.

It’s a harsh reality that Paul wasn’t ready or willing to face in the immediate aftermath of Thursday’s loss.

[+] EnlargeMatt Barnes and Kevin Durant
AP Photo/Jae C. HongKevin Durant's fingerprints were all over the Game 6 win, including this block on Matt Barnes.
“To tell you the truth, we don’t think about that,” Paul said. “The least of our worries is him. We just lost the damn series. I’m sorry, but we don’t care about that. That’s the last thing on our minds. We give him too much attention as it is.”

Paul’s teammates consoled him on the bus ride to the airport after Tuesday’s loss and called him and texted him after the team got back to Los Angeles. Paul is the leader of the team, but his fellow Clippers could tell that he was in need of something more than a pat on the back after what he called the worst loss of his basketball career.

“It’s probably the toughest thing basketball-wise that I’ve ever been through,” said Paul, who had 25 points and 11 assists Thursday. “I don’t know. It felt like the only way I could get it out of my mind was to play again. I got a great group of teammates that texted me all night last night and yesterday -- and it’s going to hurt for a while because we should have been here up 3-2 with a chance to close it out. It’s a long summer, I can tell you that much.”

Despite being regarded as the best point guard in basketball and one of the top five players in the league, Paul has mostly gotten a pass when it comes to his postseason résumé. While it appears to be championship-or-bust for the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant, Paul has been able to distinguish himself as one of the game’s greats despite never making it past the second round.

That was largely because he never had a championship coach or a championship supporting cast worthy of going further than he took them. That all changed this season, and so will the criticism that will come his way after this loss. He has a championship coach in Rivers. He has a supporting cast that includes Blake Griffin, who finished third in this season's MVP voting, DeAndre Jordan, who finished third in defensive player of the year voting, and Jamal Crawford, who won sixth man of the year.

Paul will turn 30 next year and fully realizes that talking about growth after an early exit in the playoffs is no longer acceptable.

“I'm going to prepare every offseason like I always do,” Paul said. “This ain't tennis. It ain't just me. We don't play one-on-one. It's not just to get out of the second round, it's to win a championship. I don't know anybody in our league that plays for the finals, for the Western Conference finals. That's not enough.”

Rivers wasn’t ready to talk about Paul’s legacy after the game, focusing on this as Paul’s first missed opportunity at a title but certainly not his last chance.

“It's just this time, as far as I'm concerned,” Rivers said. “I don't look at it as another time for them. We got out of the first round, advanced. We had a chance in this series, clearly. I just feel awful for him. Just point-blank, I do. He's the spirit of our team. Right now his spirit is broken. He's going to have all summer to work and get ready for next year, but he'll be back. He'll be ready. He'll be better next year.”

Rivers believes the Clippers finally found themselves at the end of a roller-coaster season that played out like a dysfunctional reality show on national television the past three weeks.

“I think we started coming together, but time ran out,” Rivers said. “I was around Coach K [Mike Krzyzewski] a lot and Duke basketball. You know exactly what Duke basketball is because he's been there forever. Early in the year, I heard 'Clipper basketball,' I was like, ‘What the hell is that?’ We're trying to figure out what that is. I thought during this playoff series, we started figuring out exactly like what Clipper basketball is and will be. I just kept thinking, ‘Man, if we can get through a couple more games, we're there.’ You can feel it. And time ran out. That's the tough part.”

Time ran out on the Clippers’ season late Thursday night, but if they can survive what is sure to be an eventful offseason, at least off the court, perhaps they will finally be able to showcase what Clippers basketball is, and will be, on the court.

Rapid Reaction: Thunder 104, Clippers 98

May, 15, 2014
May 15

LOS ANGELES -- Doc Rivers was beside himself after the Clippers’ Game 5 loss. He said the referees "robbed" the Clippers of the game and that awarding the ball to the Oklahoma City Thunder toward the end of the game on a controversial replay was a "series-defining" call.

It ended up being just that.

On Thursday night, the Thunder closed out the Clippers 104-98 to advance to the Western Conference finals, in which they will meet the San Antonio Spurs.

The Clippers were in control for much of the game, going up by 16 in the first half and 11 in the third quarter before the Thunder took their biggest lead of the game late in the fourth quarter. OKC was able to fend the Clippers off for the win, putting an end to the season for L.A.

How it happened: The question coming into Game 6 was how the Clippers would respond to the Game 5 loss. They answered much of any doubts early, taking a 14-point lead in the first quarter and a 16-point lead before halftime. They controlled the pace and tempo of the game and basically did what they wanted to do offensively. The Clippers led by as many as 11 points in the third quarter and looked like they would force a Game 7. Then, the Thunder tied the game at the end of the third quarter and, in the fourth quarter, took their first lead since the first quarter. OKC went up by as many as 10 points before holding off a late Clippers rally for the win.

What it means: The Thunder win the series in six games and advance to the Western Conference finals to play the Spurs.

Hits: Blake Griffin had 22 points, eight rebounds and eight assists before fouling out of the game with 2:27 left in the game. Chris Paul had 25 points and 11 assists, while J.J. Redick scored 16. DeAndre Jordan added nine points and 15 rebounds.

Misses: On a night when the Clippers were trying to extend their season and force a Game 7, they needed more from more players. They needed Matt Barnes to go better than 4-for-14 for nine points. They needed Jamal Crawford to score more than four points off the bench. And they needed Danny Granger to do, well, anything (0-for-3 for a single point).

Stat of the game: The Clippers dominated the Thunder in points in the paint (52-28), which was a goal coming into the game that didn’t matter in the end.

Up next: The Clippers season is over, and they will have the next five months to regroup, recover and reload before training camp starts.

Paul on loss: 'It's just bad basketball'

May, 14, 2014
May 14
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Chris Paul didn't say anything.

He stared blankly straight ahead at nothing in particular without blinking, immune to the noise around him.

[+] EnlargeChris Paul
AP PhotoChris Paul put full blame for the Clippers' Game 5 loss to the Thunder on his shoulders after a horrific final 45 seconds in Oklahoma City.
Usually, Paul's voice can be heard booming in the Clippers' locker room after a win or loss. He'll be replaying key moments to his teammates, complaining about officials he doesn't like or talking about different options on plays he might have missed.

There was none of that Tuesday night after a nightmarish final 45 seconds that Paul described as "the toughest thing I've been through, basketball-wise."

At that point, the Clippers were up 104-97 on the Thunder after a 17-foot pull-up jump shot by Paul. It seemed as if the Clippers would be one win away from the franchise's first conference finals appearance with Game 6 taking place in Los Angeles.

That's when Paul and the Clippers imploded and, as Doc Rivers said during a fiery postgame news conference, "made a comedy of errors."

Paul's errors began after Kevin Durant hit a 3-pointer and a fast-break layup to bring Oklahoma City to within 104-102 with 17 seconds left. When Paul got the inbounds pass from Matt Barnes, he assumed Russell Westbrook was going to foul him, and he jumped up and lost the ball. Reggie Jackson grabbed the loose ball, headed toward the basket, but lost the ball out of bounds after getting hit by Matt Barnes. No foul was called, but the Thunder retained possession.

Five seconds later, Paul fouled Westbrook on a 3-pointer and Oklahoma City took the lead after Westbrook made all three free throws. The Clippers, however, still had a chance to win the game, down one, with the ball, 6.4 seconds left and the ball in Paul's hands. But the All-Star guard never got a shot off and lost the ball on the dribble as time expired.

In the biggest game of his career, Paul suddenly experienced the worst 45-second stretch of his career and was at a loss for words when trying to explain what happened.

"It's me. Everything that happened there at the end is on me," Paul said. "The turnover with 17 seconds left, assuming they were going to foul was the dumbest play I've ever made. To even put it in the official's hand to call a foul on a 3 ... it's just bad basketball."

Paul didn't agree with every call down the stretch. He didn't think the Thunder should have received the ball after watching it go off Jackson out of bounds, and he didn't think he fouled Westbrook on his 3-pointer. But his two turnovers were all that mattered to him in the end.

"I didn't feel like I did [foul Westbrook], but it doesn't matter," Paul said. "We lost. It's on me. They scored and we have a chance to win on the last play and I don't even get a shot up. That's just dumb. I'm supposed to be the leader of the team. That can't happen. The league can issue a statement tomorrow saying the ball was off them, but who [cares]? We lost."

While Rivers spent the majority of his 10-minute postgame news conference complaining that the officials "robbed" the Clippers of a win after missing the out-of-bounds call on Jackson, Paul spent most of his time taking the blame. The Jackson play doesn't happen if Paul doesn't turn the ball over. The Clippers aren't trailing if Paul doesn't foul Westbrook as he attempts a 3-pointer, and none of that matters if Paul hits a winning jumper in the end.

As Paul replayed the game in his mind, he kept coming back to himself and his errors as the reason the Clippers weren't able to close the game.

"With 17 seconds, up two, just dribble the ball up and let them foul you, I probably tricked myself into assuming Russ was going to foul or they were going to call a foul, and then you can't foul a 3-point shooter," Paul said. "That's the dumbest thing ever. Even if I didn't foul him, don't even give them a chance to call it. It was just bad."

Paul is no stranger to complaining about officials after games, but on a night when his coach blamed the officials for the Clippers' loss, Paul refused to blame anyone but himself. There were several reasons the Clippers blew a 13-point lead with less than four minutes to go, but the only reasons Paul cared about were the ones he caused and the ones he could have corrected.

"We got to keep playing, but this one was bad, though," Paul said. "This is bad. To work that hard and have the game and give it away ... I pride myself on taking care of the ball and managing games towards the end. None of the guys on the team could have done anything about it. It was just me. ... We shouldn't have been in that situation. That's on me."

The Clippers have become accustomed to dealing with and overcoming adversity on and off the court this postseason, but Paul never looked more defeated and more crushed than he did leaving Chesapeake Energy Arena on Tuesday night. When he was asked how he would get over the loss, the point guard who prides himself on always having an answer had none.

"I don't know," Paul said. "I don't know. You just do. This one's bad. Get ready for Game 6."

Comeback Clippers not ready to give in

May, 11, 2014
May 11
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.

[+] EnlargeDarren Collison
Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty ImagesWith the Clippers trailing early in the game, Rivers asked his players to trust each other. Collison's 12-point final quarter validated his coach's and teammates' belief.
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.'"

(Read full post)

Doc: Clips need 'every-possession urgency'

May, 10, 2014
May 10
LOS ANGELES -- Doc Rivers smiled when he was told the Los Angeles Clippers have never come back from a 2-1 playoff series deficit in team history.

“You mean in the four times,” Rivers said. “Any of those stats don’t matter. If you said the Lakers or the Celtics, then that would matter. With us, at least those historical playoffs things, [it doesn’t resonate] here.”

It’s no secret the Clippers don’t have much of a playoff history. Even if they were to win Sunday’s Game 4 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Clippers have lost five of six best-of-seven series when tied 2-2. And they have never advanced past the second round.

[+] EnlargeBlake Griffin and Doc Rivers
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Doc Rivers cares less about the Clippers' meager playoff history and more about the tough lessons his players are learning in their series against the more-grizzled Thunder.

In fact, the Clippers registered just 11 total playoff wins from 1977 until Chris Paul arrived in 2011. Since then, the Clippers have won 11 playoff games in three seasons.

Yes, the Clippers have made great strides. But they still have yet to win more than one game in the second round.

There is only one player on their roster -- Glen Davis -- who has won a title, and he’s a reserve. Only one starter -- J.J. Redick -- has played in the NBA Finals.

At some point, the Clippers believe, they can get to the conference finals and the Finals and win a title. But their lack of experience in these moments is often exposed while going up against an Oklahoma City team that has enjoyed repeated success over the past five seasons, including a trip to the Finals.

“That’s the one advantage Oklahoma has had on us,” Rivers said. “They have several guys that have been all the way to the Finals, and they get it. They get the urgency of every single possession. We’ve been in and out of that throughout the playoffs. For us to keep going, we have to get that every-possession urgency.

“Offensively we scored 112 points [Friday], but we took off 15 possessions where we were running it but we weren’t running it crisply. We didn’t get to the right spots; we took shortcuts. Those are the things you just can’t do, and I think our guys are quickly understanding that. That point alone was beaten into us.”

It’s all part of the process and growth Rivers has talked about with the Clippers since arriving last summer. As much as he wanted to win a title in his first season, he also wanted the Clippers to take strides in learning how to become championship contenders.

When Rivers heard Paul call Game 4 a “must-win” game, he said that’s how Paul and the Clippers should approach every game and every possession in the postseason.

“I think Games 1, 2 and 3 were must wins,” Rivers said. “I honestly think that’s the urgency you have to play with in the playoffs, and I think we’ve been in and out of that. That’s, right now, the lessons we’re learning. You can still keep getting better through the playoffs. That’s why you don’t panic. You keep getting better and you keep pushing. There’s growth with every team.

“Miami will grow during the playoffs. You grow during the playoffs. You learn. You get beat and you learn, and you get better or you go home; it’s one of those two things. That’s part of the process. You have to be willing to take it, understand it, process it and move on.”

Despite being down 2-1 in their series against Oklahoma City, the Clippers weren’t too concerned after practice on Saturday. L.A. was down 1-0 to the Golden State Warriors and won its first-round series.

The Clippers also showed they could win on the road -- twice, including a Game 7 -- two years ago against the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Clippers still feel good about their chances versus OKC, but those hopes largely rely on tying the series up on Sunday here at home.

“We put ourselves in a hole, but we just have to correct some of our mistakes,” Blake Griffin said. “We came back from this situation down 1-0. It has turned, but it’s not like we’re down 3-0. We’re down 2-1 and we got another game at home.

“We need to correct our mistakes, but it’s nothing to hang our heads about or be down about. We have a chance to even it up Sunday.”

Time running out to step up on defense

May, 10, 2014
May 10
LOS ANGELES -- For the better part of three seasons, the Los Angeles Clippers have talked about wanting to be a defensive team.

In their ideal word, “Lob City” would one day morph into something more reminiscent of the “Bad Boys.” In fact, when ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentary on those Detroit Pistons of the late 1980s aired last month, every Clippers player watched it and talked about it the next day at practice.

If they were ever going to realize their dreams of becoming a championship team, they would have to buy in defensively like that Pistons team did. They would have to contest every shot and make life miserable for their opponents.

[+] EnlargeBlake Griffin
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillBlake Griffin and the Clippers scored plenty in Friday's loss to the Thunder, but they have to suddenly become a much better defensive unit if they expect to advance.
It’s a solid goal, but it remains just that, and nothing more, for the Clippers.

As much as the Clippers want to be known as a defensive team, it’s a title they’ll never fully attain until it becomes part of their DNA, instead of a tired pregame and postgame talking point. Only then will the Clippers also be able to attain their larger goal of being a championship team.

Friday’s 118-112 Game 3 home loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder showed how far the Clippers have to go to have that defensive presence and to be the team coach Doc Rivers told them they had to be during training camp and every practice since.

It wasn’t just that the Thunder scored 118 points. It was how they scored those points. They shot 55.7 percent from the field and scored a postseason-high 52 points in the paint, outscoring the Clippers in the paint for the second straight game.

“Defensively, if somebody is scoring 118 points, we obviously have to play defense better and I have to coach defense better,” Rivers said. “They shot above 50 percent. We didn't. I thought that was the difference in the game. But they got everything. They got 3s, layups, key second shots. Down the stretch, they made every big play. Every shot they needed went in.

“We had shots, too, and they didn't go in. I just thought we put way too much pressure on our offense because our defense wasn't working.”

Even when the Clippers’ defense broke down during the season and early in the playoffs, they usually found a way to rally late and get key stops down the stretch. It happened during Game 7 of the first-round series against the Golden State Warriors, when they came back from 13 points down.

Rallying from defensive letdowns and counting on late stops is like a safety blanket. It’s a strategy that can work during the season and in the first round of the playoffs but will often lead to loss when going up against teams like the Thunder.

“We've been a team regardless of how the first three-quarters went or the first part of the fourth quarter, we relied on stops down the stretch,” Chris Paul said. “Tonight we didn't do that. We obviously scored enough points to win. [Russell Westbrook] hit a big 3 when they were up one. [Kevin Durant] hit one on the wing. We're used to getting stops in those situations, and we didn't tonight.”

Rivers has said the Clippers can win when Durant and Westbrook have big nights. They’re almost always going to have big nights, as was the case Friday when they combined for 59 points, 19 assists and 16 rebounds.

What L.A. can’t afford is to have Serge Ibaka score 20 points on 9-of-10 shooting and Reggie Jackson and Caron Butler combine for 28 points off the bench.

“The thing that’s happened the last two games is they’ve had different guys step up,” J.J. Redick said. “Tonight, Reggie Jackson and Serge played well offensively. We know Durant and Westbrook are going to get their points. We’d like to limit the other guys as much as possible.”

Making those defensive stops can be hard when players are in the wrong place and trying to coach one another and point out mistakes as the game is happening. Instead of moving onto the next play, the Clippers have a penchant for dwelling on previous mistakes, which usually leads to more mistakes.

“The only thing I didn't like, I thought they were frustrated when they scored, which is good. You want them to be. But you got to keep playing,” Rivers said. “I thought there was some residual. One guy knows that the defense broke down because there was somebody else. Instead of just keeping playing, you felt like you had to tell them. I'm saying, ‘OK, let's tell them later, but let's just keep playing.’

“It's human nature. Guys want to win. They all want to win. I get that, have no problem with that, but we have to move past that.”

Chances are the Clippers aren’t going to become the defensive team they want to be overnight, and certainly not before Game 4 on Sunday. But they’ll need to at least move in that direction if they hope to win and get past the second round for the first time in franchise history.

“We just have come out ready to play,” Paul said. “It's a tough one here, but we need to get Game 4. It's like a must-win for us. We knew that we were going to have to win at least one there, and now we're going to have to win two there. We're going to have to start off with a Game 4 win.”
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.

[+] EnlargeBlake Griffin
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesBlake Griffin scored only 15 points in the Clippers' Game 2 loss to the Thunder in Oklahoma City.
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."

(Read full post)

Paul's sense of urgency can benefit team

May, 5, 2014
May 5

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Chris Paul was the first player at Chesapeake Energy Solutions Arena on Monday.

Before the first team bus pulled into the arena, Paul had gotten into a cab and come over on his own almost four hours before the start of the game to shoot with Los Angeles Clippers assistant coach Dave Severns.

Whenever Paul feels the need to shoot before or after a game, he will tell Severns and the two will go through a shooting drill that takes Paul around the court with Severns feeding him the ball.

Paul felt the need to come over early on Monday after feeling sluggish during the morning shootaround and falling asleep during the film session on Sunday.

“Me and Blake talked about it this morning at shootaround,” Paul said. “Obviously, we were still a little tight from traveling and we said at 8:30 we better be ready to go, so I came over here early before the game and got a lot of shots up.”

By the time Paul walked off the court in the afternoon, his injured right hamstring and right thumb were behind him. He felt better than he had since the postseason began and told his teammates that he would look to be more aggressive early in the game.

[+] EnlargeChris Paul
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiChris Paul may be playing like this is his only opportunity for a conference final appearance, but he had a chance to smile with Blake Griffin at the end of their Game 1 rout of the Thunder.
None of them could have foreseen how aggressive he would be.

In one of the biggest games of his career, Paul had the best shooting night of his career. He finished with 32 points on 12-of-14 from the field and 8-of-9 from beyond the 3-point line. Paul made his first eight 3-point attempts and fell one shy of the single-game playoff record of nine 3s.

Never before had Paul made more than five 3-pointers in a game (a span of 665 regular season and postseason games). He hit six before halftime and eight before the end of the third quarter.

It didn’t matter who the Oklahoma City Thunder threw at him, Paul made a pull-up jumper against eight different Thunder defenders on the night.

Not only did Paul lead the Clippers to a 122-105 blowout of the Thunder in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series, he became the first player with at least 30 points and 10 assists on 75 percent shooting in a playoff game since Michael Jordan in 1991.

Paul’s teammates often tell him to be aggressive, but more often than not his comfort zone is in facilitating for his teammates and letting the game come to him. On Monday, however, he listened to his teammates, especially Blake Griffin, who looked at him early in the first quarter and repeatedly told him, “Be aggressive. Be aggressive.”

“I try to take what’s given to me and early, and I think the shot clock might have been running down on one of the first shots that I shot and I made it and I just kept trying to be aggressive,” Paul said. “I didn’t want to force it or anything like that. I’m one of those people that think when you’re hot and you take a bad shot, it’s gone. I just tried to be aggressive.”

Paul has been getting around-the-clock treatment from the Clippers training staff on his injured hamstring and thumb. Doc Rivers hinted before the series started that most people outside the Clippers’ locker room have no idea what Paul had to go through to play in the previous series against the Golden State Warriors.

“That’s just toughness,” Rivers said after Game 1 in Oklahoma City. “I thought he really set the tone for us at the start of the game. I just thought he went downhill a lot with the drives and that’s what we have been trying to tell him to do. Quick decisions and move the ball. I thought his being aggressive at the start of the game really set the tone throughout the game.”

Paul often jokes he’s not much of a 3-point shooter. But it has become part of his arsenal recently. After going 51-for-156 from 3-point range in his first 53 games of the season, Paul is now 52-of-102 in his past 17 games.

“That’s what I do,” Paul said when asked about his 3-point shooting. “That’s a lie. I don’t know. It was just one of those nights. I promise you it has to be a career high. This one will definitely go down in the record books for me. Don’t count on it for Game 2, I can tell you that.”

Paul was 10-for-12 for 28 points on pull-up jump shots Monday, including 8-of-9 from 3. And the only thing Paul’s older brother, C.J., was interested in talking about postgame were those two misses and Paul’s two turnovers.

“That’s the way it’s always been,” Paul said. “That’s the way it is.”

Paul is a perfectionist who usually only looks at the number of mistakes he made in a game. His eyes will almost always dart to the turnovers column; if there is a number greater than zero for him, that’s what he will focus on.

But Paul has taken a big-picture approach to this season and this playoff run. He read the book "The Way of the Champion," by Jerry Lynch, before the start of the postseason and talked about the need to take advantage of being on a championship team, not knowing how many opportunities he will have during his career.

“I’ve never been past the second round, and this is my ninth season. I remember the team I was on in 2008, when we lost Game 7 to the Spurs, and you feel like you’re always going to be back there. And that’s not the case,” Paul said. “The team here, I think is a special team. Not only do we have a good team, but also it’s fun to be around each other.”

Rivers doesn’t think this is a make-or-break postseason for Paul, but that he’s approaching it like it is certainly doesn’t hurt.

“I think Chris Paul is going to be in a lot of second-round series trying to get to the third round, and this is not going to be the last one,” Rivers said. “He has the urgency like this is going to be the last one, and I think that’s really important for the entire team that this is going to be the last one. And I think that’s really important for our entire team to have that urgency. You can’t assume anything in our league.”

Information from ESPN Stats & Information was used in this story.

Clippers ready to face Thunder

May, 4, 2014
May 4
LOS ANGELES -- When the Los Angeles Clippers returned to their locker room after defeating the Golden State Warriors late Saturday night to advance to the Western Conference semifinals, they were greeted with a spiral-bound scouting report of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Clippers didn't have much time to soak up Saturday's win and recover from a difficult week on and off the court before boarding a flight to Oklahoma City on Sunday.

[+] EnlargeChris Paul
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesChris Paul survived a seven-game series against the Warriors, but his nagging injuries figure to linger in the next round.
"We've already passed the books out," Rivers said shortly after the game. "They have the Oklahoma books in their lockers. I asked them to go home and read tonight. That's their homework."

The Clippers and Thunder split their four-game season series with both teams claiming a win at home and on the road. The Clippers' win in Oklahoma City in February helped jump-start an 11-game winning streak before they added veterans Glen Davis and Danny Granger after the trade deadline.

Rivers says he believes the keys in this series are to limit turnovers -- something the Clippers failed to do against Golden State as they turned the ball over an average of 14 times per game -- and make life difficult for the soon-to-be MVP Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

"You can't turn the ball over against Oklahoma," Rivers said. "You turn the ball over against Oklahoma, it's almost a guaranteed two, and with Durant it's a three. They're terrific at offensive rebounding. They have length. I think Westbrook is one of the best rebounding guards in our league, so we have to control that. You have to make Durant's baskets hard. He's going to score.

"We already know that, but we don't want him to get easy scores. We want to make it as difficult as possible."

Chris Paul's injured right hamstring and right thumb is expected to continue to be an issue, but it didn't prevent him from having 22 points, 14 assists and four steals in 42 minutes on Saturday in Game 7. There were several times during the game when Rivers wanted to take Paul out, but Paul continued to tell his coach that he was able to play.

"He really showed what he's made of," Rivers said. "Just the character he has. I thought his leadership and his will helped the entire team because they know what he's going through. To give that performance on that stage was huge for us."

(Read full post)

LOS ANGELES -- The longest week in Los Angeles Clippers history ended Saturday, but their season will go on.

Playing in their first-ever playoff Game 7 at home, the Clippers defeated the Golden State Warriors 126-121 to win their first-round playoff series and advance to the second round for only the third time since 1976.

Doc Rivers still hates to talk about the last time he was involved in a Game 7 at Staples Center.

It was the 2010 NBA Finals and his Boston Celtics blew a fourth-quarter lead to the Los Angeles Lakers that cost him a chance to win his second title in three years with the Celtics.

On Saturday, Rivers was back in Staples Center for a Game 7 and was happy to not look up at a reminder of his result from four years ago as the Lakers' championship banners have been covered by oversized photos of Clippers players for Clippers home games this season.

"Thank god, we don't have to see those banners tonight," Rivers said. "That's probably why I hung those other things so if we do have a Game 7, I'm not reminded."

Rivers will now have new Game 7 memories that will help push the past aside, such as Blake Griffin bull-rushing his way toward the basket and turning a somersault after an acrobatic layup and foul, DeAndre Jordan dunking another lob from Griffin and, well, the memory of himself pumping his fist and giving high-fives to everyone in sight after the longest week of his professional career.

Nothing can take the place of winning a championship, but after Saturday's win, the Clippers took the first big step toward doing just that.

How it happened: The Clippers looked sluggish early as the Warriors could not miss from the field. Golden State jumped out to a 10-point lead in the first quarter and pushed it to 12 in the second quarter. The Warriors shot 72 percent from the field in the first quarter and were close to 60 percent in the half. The Clippers, however, continued to stay in the game and finally made a push in the third quarter, going up by eight points thanks to 10 points from J.J. Redick in the period. But this game was destined to go down to the end as the Clippers and Warriors exchanged baskets and the lead before the Clippers finally pulled away in the end.

What it means: The Clippers have won the series. They advance to the second round for only the third time in team history.

Hits: On a night when they needed it most, the Clippers got one of their more balanced scoring games of the season. Six players, including all five starters, scored at least 13 points. Griffin had 24 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds, and Jamal Crawford came off the bench and scored 22 points. Chris Paul had 22 points and 14 assists, and Jordan had 15 points and 18 rebounds. Redick had 20 points, including two late free throws that helped seal the win.

Misses: No real misses, but the Clippers were hoping to get more from Danny Granger and Glen Davis in the postseason, and on Saturday they combined to go 1-of-5 for only two points.

Stat of the game: The Clippers had 62 points in the paint compared to 38 for the Warriors.

Up next: The Clippers will take on the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1 of their second-round series, which begins Monday night in Oklahoma City.

Trust crumbles when Clips lose teamwork

May, 2, 2014
May 2

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.

[+] EnlargeLos Angeles Clippers
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

Blake Griffin got in foul trouble Thursday and exited early. When he's not in with Chris Paul, the Clippers seem to lose their rhythm and confidence in one another.

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.”