Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers has one NBA championship under his belt. Rivers, who earned that title during his nine seasons coaching for the Boston Celtics will have to wait until the 2020-2021 NBA season to try to add a second championship ring to all of the hardware he has picked up along his distinguished coaching career.
That’s because Rivers and his Clippers were stalemated by Jamal Murray and the Denver Nuggets. As a result, the Clippers came up one playoff game win short of playing for the right to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals. That one game is sure to follow the Clippers into the offseason all the way up to breaking camp for the new NBA season.
The flight home to Los Angeles from Florida no doubt figure to be just as long considering how the Clippers faltered against the Nuggets in their best-of-seven second-round playoff series. There will be a lot of comparisons made between this year’s squad to the 2014-15 Clippers team that featured Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, and DeAndre Jordan.
Blake, Paul, and Jordan and that Clippers team also jumped out to a 3-1 second round advantage over an opponent (Houston Rockets), only to see the opportunity of moving on to the next series evaporate. But making that comparison is a leap. These are two separate teams. The only common denominator between those two ballclubs is Rivers, a coach destined for the Hall of Fame once his career has ended.
At this moment, Rivers is not thinking or care about any personal accolades to be celebrating. Like his team, Rivers is hurting. As he spoke to the media following Denver’s 104-89 Game 7 win against the Clippers, Rivers had a pained expression on his face as he articulated what went wrong for his ballclub after Murray and the Nuggets eliminated the Clippers from the postseason with a 4-3 series edge.
“Just disappointed,” Rivers said. “I thought we had so many opportunities over the last three games to win. But listen, you have to give Denver credit. They kept playing, they kept executing. They kept playing together. Right now, just disappointed. You know, honestly, I thought just you could see the difference in the two teams. That team has been together, we haven’t, and you could see it as the games went on. They just knew each other so well. I thought offensively, even though — listen, we had great shots. I mean, great shots, all night. I still didn’t think we trusted. You know, we did at the beginning of the game. We did coming out of the third quarter. We got a 7-point lead but right when they put pressure on us, honestly, I just thought we didn’t come through.”
There will be a lot more questions than answers as it relates to the Clippers dropping losing their second-round playoff series against the Nuggets. Yes, the Clippers did squander a 3-1 series lead against the Nuggets. Yes, neither Clippers stars Kawhi Leonard (6 of 22 FG) nor Paul George (4 of 16 FG) shot the ball effectively from the field in the decisive Game 7.
And yes, the Clippers still have not made it over the hump to play in the Western Conference Finals. In the aftermath of the Clippers not reaching the Western Conference Finals, which many people thought they would, there are sure to be some finger-pointing as to what went wrong, especially when see you that the Clippers scored just a combined 33 points in the third (18 points) and fourth quarter (15 points).
Nothing really went wrong; Denver just beat them, Rivers said.
“I’m not going to make an excuse. Denver beat us,” Rivers said. “Denver was the better team. We had 35 or 40 different layups. We had all that stuff. But once you get to the playoffs, throw that all out the window and you’ve got to perform. You’ve got to perform better. You’ve got to execute better. You’ve got to trust better. You’ve got to play better as a team. I thought Denver played better as a team throughout the playoffs.”
It was more team Denver and two Nuggets that beat the Clippers. Team Denver was everybody else not named Murray or Nikola Jokic. Jokic showed off his triple-threat capabilities, going for 16 points, 22 rebounds, and 13 assists. As for Murray, Game 7 may have been his second-coming out party this postseason. Murray dropped 40 points on the Clippers in Game 7.
Afterward, when asked if the Clippers had not met the team’s lofty expectations to contend for a championship this season, guard Lou Williams gave a blunt response.
“Yeah, we’re pissed off. Simple and plain,” Williams said. “We’re pissed off. We were up 3-1. We had two opportunities to win this series and we didn’t. We didn’t close it out. So we’re pissed off. We look forward to the opportunity to get back on the floor together.”
The best thing about this season for the Clippers is that they do have an opportunity to build on what they have started. It starts with Rivers, completing his seventh year with the ballclub. Since Rivers took over coaching the Clippers beginning with the 2013-14 season, Los Angeles has managed to shake off its laughing stock reputation to a team with continued success under the rein of Rivers.
The Clippers have made it into the postseason six of the seven years Rivers have coached the team. They have played in the conference semifinals in three of those seven years. In the decade prior to Rivers arriving, the Clippers participated in the playoffs three times out of 10 years. Despite the negative outcome from the series for the Clippers, the team can ride on this experience moving forward, Paul George said.
“I mean, we just, you know, stayed positive about it. We stayed positive about it,” George said. “Again, we tipped our hats off to the opponents. They played good down the stretch. But you know, it hurt as a group. You know, it’s not the outcome that we wanted. But we stayed together, regardless. We talked it out. We stayed together in the locker room and again, we kind of knew what this was. It’s a team that’s, you know, we’re looking for the long run, and keep saying it, all we got from here, is to be positive going down — going forward of what we can be and you know, the team in the future. That’s all we have right now, and you know, we’re just positive and optimistic about it.”