Clippers Coach Doc Rivers pounded the table with his hand, as irritated at himself and his coaching staff as any of the players who were making mistake after mistake on the game footage that played before him.
Rivers wanted to know why his Clippers didn’t foul Oklahoma City before Kevin Durant launched a three-pointer in the final minute that helped the Thunder rally for a series-turning Game 5 victory in the Western Conference semifinals last spring.
“How did that happen?” Rivers asked his coaching staff during a viewing of the game earlier this summer. “What didn’t we say in the timeout that they didn’t hear us?”
Assistant coach Armond Hill informed Rivers that he had twice instructed his players to foul during the timeout huddle.
“Well,” Rivers said, “we didn’t do something right as a staff.”
There was plenty of blame to go around after the Clippers failed to hold a 13-point cushion with four minutes to play and a seven-point advantage with 49.2 seconds to go during a 105-104 defeat that had a predictable carry-over effect two days later.
“Game 6,” Rivers said, referring to his team’s final loss of the season, “was an extension of Game 5, in my opinion.”
And just like that, a Clippers season that included a franchise-record 57 regular season wins, and an emotionally charged first-round victory over the Golden State Warriors amid the chaos of the Donald Sterling fiasco, was over in distressing fashion. After the Thunder eliminated them, Clippers guards Chris Paul and J.J. Redick cried in the Staples Center locker room, when the finality of the situation sank in.
Rivers viewed the Game 5 recording three times this summer, most recently with some of his assistants on Thursday.
The Clippers completed their coaching staff on Thursday, hiring Lawrence Frank after he negotiated a buyout of his contract with the Brooklyn Nets. He joins a staff that will include former Washington Wizards assistant Sam Cassell and former New York Knicks coach Mike Woodson, in addition to holdover Hill and the recently promoted Brendan O’Connor.
“We won’t reference it all year,” Rivers said of the Game 5 collapse, which also featured a controversial out-of-bounds call that went against the Clippers. “But we definitely will bring it up early in camp.”
Much of the criticism after the game centered on Paul, who committed turnovers on the Clippers’ final two possessions and fouled Russell Westbrook on a three-pointer, the resulting free throws giving the Thunder the lead with 6.4 seconds remaining.
But Rivers said the Clippers never would have been in position to lose the game had they not committed some other less discussed mistakes. The team’s transition defense broke down twice, leading to quick Thunder baskets, and his players forgot to foul after an inbounds play with 49.2 seconds left that led to the Durant three-pointer.
“There were a lot of plays that people saw,” Rivers said. “But there were plays that people didn’t see that we did as well. To me, if he had done those plays down the stretch, the other ones never would have come into play.”
The final blunder occurred on the Clippers’ last offensive possession, Rivers said, where a player should have been open but wasn’t “because mentally, they were gone.” Paul then had the ball stolen and the Thunder ran out the final seconds.
Rivers said he didn’t want to belabor the painful memory with his team when training camp opens Tuesday in Las Vegas, but conceded a brief refresher could be useful.
“The good part for our young guys [is] that they thought just because they were good, that means you get to win,” Rivers said. “And I think they realize now that, nope, you’re still not good enough.”