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PLAYA VISTA, Calif. -- A day after squandering a late 13-point lead against the Oklahoma City Thunder -- a collapse that left coach Doc Rivers railing into the officiating during his postgame news conference -- the Los Angeles Clippers collectively tried to let go of Game 5 and focus on Game 6 of their Western Conference semifinals series.
And the NBA seemed to do the same, defending the outcome of a play that came with 11.3 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter Tuesday, when it appeared the ball went out of bounds off Reggie Jackson but the Thunder were awarded possession by the referees after video review.
"With 11.3 seconds left in the game, the basketball went out of bounds on the baseline and the referees ruled the ball belonged to the Thunder," the league's president of basketball operations, Rod Thorn, said in a statement Wednesday. "The referees then used instant replay to review the play. In order to reverse the call made on the court, there has to be 'clear and conclusive' evidence.
|Doc Rivers had calmed considerably Wednesday since his postgame comments when the coach said his team was "robbed" of a victory by the officials.|
"Since no replay provided such evidence, the play correctly stood as called with the Thunder retaining possession."
Prior to Thorn issuing the statement, Rivers said he spoke to the league office about the game, but said the content of that conversation was "private."
As of Wednesday evening, the NBA had still not determined whether Rivers would be fined for publicly criticizing the officiating, according to a league source.
Rivers had calmed considerably since his postgame comments when the incensed coach said his team was "robbed" of the victory and dubbed the call that went in favor of the Thunder with 11.3 seconds left a "series-defining play."
The coach chose to put Tuesday's 105-104 loss in the past, saying he would not file a formal protest with the league over the result. The defeat dropped the Clippers into a 3-2 series deficit.
Protests are a rarity in the NBA. They can be filed by a governor, alternative governor or head coach of a team and must be accompanied by a $10,000 check which will be forfeited if the protest is not granted.
During the 2007-08 season, the league granted the Miami Heat's protest to replay the final 51.9 seconds of their game against the Atlanta Hawks because the official scorer incorrectly ruled that Shaquille O'Neal had fouled out of the game. Before that, the league had not granted a protest since 1982.
"I don't ever do that," Rivers said before practice Wednesday. "I've never filed a protest in my life because I don't know what you get for it. You don't get the game back and you can't get (a do-over). It's funny, in Boston a couple times they wanted me to do it. I said, 'No thank you. I'll pass on that.'
"Listen, the one thing I know is no one does anything on purpose," Rivers added. "I don't believe in any of that stuff. So it happens, it happened and we move on."
Before the Clippers were ready to move on, they let the "sting" of the loss that puts their season on the brink of elimination set in, according to Blake Griffin.
First, on the bus ride from the arena to the airport late Tuesday night, Griffin and Jamal Crawford huddled with Chris Paul to try to convince the point guard that the loss wasn't his fault.
"He was visibly upset and I told him that game is not on one guy," said Griffin of Paul, who had two turnovers and fouled Russell Westbrook on a 3-point attempt in the game's final minute. "It's not on him. We made plenty of mistakes down the stretch. We made plenty of mistakes throughout the game that could ultimately change the outcome. So, that idea that it's on him, I understand what he's saying, but it's not on anybody."
The readying process really began on the plane ride from Oklahoma City to L.A. later Tuesday night, when the Clippers held an "impromptu team meeting," according to Rivers.
"Listen, you don't win easy," Rivers said, recalling his message. "You don't win it easy. You may win a game, but we're trying to do something special here and be something special and if you're trying to stand out in any job, it's going to be hard. You're going to face adversity. And you just got to accept that that's part of the process. Yeah, this is hard, because it's supposed to be. That's the only thing I told our guys: What's going on right now is exactly what should happen to win. You have to go through stuff to win. You just got to deal with it."
"The emotional roller coaster of the playoffs is unbelievable," said Griffin, adding that he could relate to the ride Rivers and the Celtics had in 2008. "I was telling somebody after Game 4, I pretty much experienced every single emotion I have and last night as well. So, it's the first to four for a reason. We're not out of this by any means."
Rivers echoed the same confidence.
"The way we look at it, we have back-to-back elimination games coming up -- Game 6 and Game 7," Rivers said. "And that's how we have to look at it. And we shouldn't look at it as anything with any tension. We should be really be looking forward to it. This should be a lot of fun. We should embrace it. And this is all good."The three Paul miscues were picked over again before practice Wednesday, however. It began with a play with 13.9 seconds remaining and the Clippers up 104-102 when Paul tried to get fouled attempting a 3-pointer in the backcourt some 75 feet from the hoop and Westbrook stole it from him.
"You got to be close and you got to contest," Rivers said. "Chris did his job and last night he took a half a step too close."
Finally, Paul lost the ball on the Clippers' final possession with 0.9 seconds left when it appeared his arm was jarred by Jackson, squandering L.A.'s chance at even attempting a game-winning shot.
"No," Paul said when asked if Jackson fouled him. "I didn't even realize Reggie was there until I looked at the film and I felt like I lost it."
Add it all up, and the Clippers find themselves in a must-win situation on Thursday.
"The crazy part about the game is that if any of those things would have happened right just one time, we win the game," Rivers said. "Heck, even if the officials had called a foul (on Matt Barnes) on the last play, that would have helped us more than the way it turned out. So, it was one of those games. But again, after five games, somebody was going to be up 3-2. Unfortunately it's not us, but we're good with that. We'll be ready."