If the Clippers were a publicly traded company, Doc Rivers could have a held a conference call with investors late Wednesday night to tout his team’s year-over-year growth.
It was almost exactly one year to the day after the coach had stood in front of reporters inside Oracle Arena and called his players “soft.” He sounded a far more upbeat tone Wednesday following their 112-108 loss to the Golden State Warriors.
That descriptor never came up after the Clippers rallied from a 17-point, second-quarter deficit to nearly defeat the defending NBA champions.
“Though we lost,” Rivers said afterward, “I think tonight will give us a lot of confidence.”
The Clippers reserves that were so awful in the first half were brilliant after halftime, sparking a push that gave the Clippers a 10-point lead early in the fourth quarter. Josh Smith made a three-pointer, Austin Rivers a running jumper and Jamal Crawford a tip-in as part of a 14-5 run to open the quarter.
Chris Paul gutted out a broken finger and a strained right groin until the latter injury forced Doc Rivers to keep the veteran point guard on the bench for the game’s final 13 seconds.
The only thing missing was a happy ending.
Golden State got Stephen Curry open — using a play devised by former Clippers and Warriors assistant Alvin Gentry, Rivers noted — for the corner jumper that gave the Warriors the lead with 2 1/2 minutes left. The Warriors held on after Rivers said his players forgot the play that was called after Paul exited the game in the final seconds with his team trailing by four points.
It took the Clippers 10 seconds to get off a shot on Crawford’s three-pointer that was blocked by Klay Thompson. That wasn’t exactly what the Clippers wanted.
“Everybody should know the play, not just the guy with the ball,” Rivers lamented, “and we didn’t know the play down the stretch.”
Paul tried to stay on the court for the final sequence but was overruled by his coach.
“I didn’t think it was severe,” Rivers said of Paul’s injury, “it’s just too early in the season so I just took him out. Chris was trying to get on the floor and I dragged him back and he was not happy, but it’s too early in the season for that.”
Paul told reporters he expected to play in the Clippers’ next game against the Houston Rockets on Saturday at Staples Center.
There were contrasting views in the Clippers’ locker room about whether a close loss to the only remaining unbeaten team in the Western Conference signified a step forward. Count shooting guard J.J. Redick, who memorably remarked that the Clippers weren’t the “Bad News Bears,” in the “nay” category.
“I don’t believe in that … " Redick said, coloring his opinion with an expletive. “A step would be had we executed down the stretch and won. That would have been a step.”
Said Crawford: “I wouldn’t call it a stepping stone but maybe a side step,” he said. “Maybe you can look at some things and see what you can correct.”
Perhaps Clippers center DeAndre Jordan put it best when asked if anything from the loss would stick with him.
“No, absolutely not,” Jordan said. “It’s the fifth game, bro.”