Doc Rivers and the Bumpy, Clippers Ride

Regardless of how the Los Angeles Clippers have come out the gate like that thoroughbred horse that is streaking to the finish line, Glenn “Doc” Rivers is on the sidelines with a quiet burden buried deep beneath the bone. It won’t go away because it can’t. Losing in the most important game of your career is a punch to the gut and even though it’s been six years since that brutal game 7 loss, it doesn’t mean it still doesn’t haunt Doc. The questions are both philosophical and universal. Why? What should I have done differently? How can a team up 3-2 in the NBA Finals and coached by Rivers turnaround so quickly, losing two straight? Historians will record the injury to Kendrick Perkins as the catalyst but years after the fact who cares about the details big and small? It is the big picture that counts. Doc Rivers lost a Game 7 In the NBA Finals. He lost a Game 7 he should have won. Forevermore, he has to live with the memory and the consequences.

Rivers history repeated itself in 2014. He was up 3-1 in a second round series to the Houston Rockets. The Clippers had just finished a thrilling seven game series against the Spurs which came down to one Chris Paul unbelievable shot. Their prize was the Houston Rockets. It was going to be the first time that the Clippers advanced to the Western Conference finals. But they had to despose of James Harden and company first, which was going rather well until the dream took a turn for the worse and the Clippers were in their familiar place of the boat taking on water.

And so here we are. The why of Doc Rivers and his game 7 debacle. The why of the Clippers and their playoff paralysis. Shuttled off somewhere, you hide pain. The Clippers, for the first time in their history, are legitimate contenders for the top spot in the West. Not too many people would give them any hope of beating the Warriors in a game 7 at Oracle. The Cavs did it because they had two brilliant iso socrers in LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Just put the ball in their hands and watch what they do. That is not the Clippers identity. Chris Paul has the ball in his hands but not to score, to create. He scores when his team needs him to. Furthermore, in the playoffs Blake Griffin has underwhelmed, either because of injury, fatigue or stress. So getting the top spot in the west, though it is not a guarantee for anything, ups the odds of that first ever Western Conference final.

The West is looking particularly weak this year. Many projected the Timberwolves to make their first leap into the playoffs since Kevin Garnett. They have three 20-point scorers, Tom Thibodeau, and a winning percentage of 29.4%. The worst record in the league is not the Philadelphia 76ers but the Dallas Mavericks. The Lakers have a shot at the 8th seed in this sorry Western Conference. 9 teams are at .500 or worse. Only three teams, the Clippers, Warriors and Spurs have any shot at making the conference final. The Clippers irony is that they don’t have to be this good. Much of the division are young players unable to compete. There is talent but not much skill on how to win, nor is their consistency.

Nevertheless, Rivers and his crew have come out the gate like a house on fire even as they have stumbled lately causing all of those who were on their bandwagon to break their ankes jumping off. They were predicted to be a top-3 seed and guess what? They have the third best record in the conference.

The Clippers are 4th in fast break points, 7th in scoring, 4th in field goal percentage, 5th in 3-point percentage. It’s a miss or make league and the Clippers are making.

2016-17 Field Goal % 3-Point % Wins by 20+ Points Offensive Rating Defensive Rating
Cleveland Cavaliers 45.2% 39.2% 3 (Knicks, Pistons,  Mavs) 2nd (115.2) 15th (105.7)
Golden State Warriors 50.2% 38.4% 7 (Blazers, Thunder, Mavs, Nuggets, Pacers, Lakers, Lakers) 1st (117.1) 9th (104.4)
Los Angeles Clippers 46.5% 37.6% 5 (Spurs, Pistons, Blazers, Nets, Mavs) 5th (112.0) 2nd (101.2)

But where Doc has them playing at un-like Clippers level is defensively. They are 5th in points allowed. However, they have two red flags. They aren’t a good 3-point defense, 24th, giving up 37% shooting which means the Warriors of 49.4% Steph and 36.5% Klay and 44.2% Durant will be able to get their shots off with no problem. The other Clippers area of much needed improvement is offensive rebounding.

But that is what an 82 game schedule is for. Get better. Game after game. Shore up weaknesses.The impressive thing about Doc’s team is that they are in mid-season form and it is not December yet. They are dialed in as if a playoff berth is on the line, not as if they are one of the four best teams in the NBA who have yet to hit the dog days of the NBA schedule.

As usual, the Clippers have to outrace their history. It’s been a bumpy ride with a lot of traction on those tires. Once upon a time, the Clippers were a pathetic franchise; they are now trying to turn the page and make a run at glory. Doc Rivers, one of the league’s great coaches, motivator’s and men, has to turn the page too. There is nothing he can do to erase the stain of that knife in the gut 2010 Finals loss. But sports redeem those who are involved. Doc can go where no man has ever gone in his sport. Win a title for the franchise no one thought would ever be a champion, the Los Angeles Clippers.

 

photo via llananba