Sports

Doc Rivers' message gets through to Clippers

Blake Griffin leaped high in the air, raising one hand to knock down a lob and force a turnover.

Don't lose a game because the other team played harder.

Danny Granger extended his hand to intercept a Golden State Warriors pass that eventually turned into three Clippers points.

Don't lose a game because the other team played harder.

DeAndre Jordan caught up to Stephen Curry when seemingly beat to the basket, pinning the ball against the backboard on an impossible block.

Don't lose a game because the other team played harder.

The 10 words that defined the Clippers on Saturday night at Staples Center left them with wobbly legs and heaving chests, just as they were designed to do.

They were uttered the previous day by Clippers Coach Doc Rivers when asked about his message to his team.

His players were listening.

They lunged and spun and elevated to compensate for other shortcomings, their extra effort carrying them to a wilder-by-the-moment 126-121 victory in Game 7 of their first-round playoff series.

“I think it just showed our will, our fight, and more so than getting through all that it was getting through tonight,” Clippers point guard Chris Paul said. “We gave up 64 points I think in the first half [and] we just showed a lot of fight and a lot of will to come back and win this.”

Clippers fans wearing red T-shirts saying "IT'S TIME" in big block letters have only a few days to throw them in the wash before putting them on again.

It's time to keep playing. Next stop: Oklahoma City for the Western Conference semifinals.

The Clippers' resolve pushed it past an opponent that made more three-pointers and appeared destined to close things out early when it took a double-digit lead and then responded to every Clippers push.

But the Clippers kept winning the game of immeasurables.

There is no category in a box score for hustle plays, but the Clippers prevailed in a rout. You could see it in J.J. Redick's springing legs, Matt Barnes' flailing arms and Jordan's quickly shifting defensive stance.

Rivers called Jordan’s block of Curry’s shot with 1 minute 58 seconds left and the Clippers holding a one-point lead the biggest play of the game.

“I don’t know he blocked that shot,” Rivers said. “I think it was with his left hand.”

Rivers contributed constant encouragement, ending with an emotional scene near the end of the game when he emphatically pumped his fist toward the crowd. His support of his team started in October.

He distributed sheets of paper to his players on the first day of training camp in La Jolla. On the paper was a map of downtown Los Angeles and a message: "Pick which route we're going to take."

Did the Clippers want their championship parade to go down Figueroa and then head toward the L.A. Convention Center? Or maybe they really wanted to stick it to the Lakers and march down Chick Hearn Court.

There were all sorts of possibilities, if only the Clippers committed themselves to greatness.

They did for the next seven months, setting a franchise record with 57 regular-season victories and taking a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series against the Warriors.

Then came the Donald Sterling imbroglio, derogatory comments about blacks attributed to the Clippers owner testing his team more than any crushing defeat on the court.

The Clippers were unfocused in losing Game 4, cohesive in winning in Game 5 and out of energy in losing Game 6.

Rivers countered Sterling's remarks with his own strong words, encouraging players and team employees to stay united amid the tumult.

Sometimes he listened more than he spoke. He showed the kind of leadership that made you wonder whether he should be doing something more meaningful than coaching a basketball team.

Ultimately, Rivers showed that words matter.

Don't lose a game because the other team played harder.

The Clippers remembered when they needed to most.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Twitter: @latbbolch

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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