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Clippers reaching second round is only second-best thing to happen to them this week

Clippers guard Lou Williams directs his teammates during Game 3 against the Dallas Mavericks.
(Mike Ehrmann / Associated Press)

While waiting for Denver to win its series against Utah, coach Doc Rivers spent his last two days thinking more about his team than either of the opponents the Clippers could face in the second round.

“Not even going to let myself go there yet,” Rivers said Tuesday, “because we can fix our own stuff now.”

That isn’t to say the Clippers aren’t looking ahead for other reasons.

Families and guests of players are allowed to enter the NBA’s Disney World campus at the start of the second round, after several days in quarantine. When Clippers guard Lou Williams sees his family this week, it will be their first time together in more than seven weeks.

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“Last time I left my son he was a little smaller,” Williams said of Syx, who was born Dec. 31. “He’s crawling around taking a few steps, got a few teeth now, so I’m excited to see him, excited to see his growth, as well as his mom, and just be around some love.”

The Clippers will face the Nuggets in the second round of the NBA playoffs after Denver rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Utah Jazz in Game 7.

The arrival of families, and the break from monotony they provide, has been viewed as a milestone ever since the NBA revealed its plan in June to resume its coronavirus-interrupted season while sequestered in Orlando. But no one could have predicted that players, with revived concerns about the league’s commitment to combating racial injustice following the shooting of Jacob Blake, would bring play to a halt in late August. Or that it would take a fraught 24 hours to get the season back on track.

Considering the uncertainty and stress of the last week, the visits are coming at a particularly important juncture.

“You see a lot of smiles on the players’ faces when they come back to the hotel now,” Clippers forward JaMychal Green said. “Kids tend to do that for you.”

A 15-year veteran, Williams was one of several Clippers at the center of the discussions on whether to resume play or end the seasonafter Milwaukee refused to play following Blake’s shooting in Kenosha, Wis.

During a meeting of 13 teams, the Clippers told their peers they would be comfortable ending the season. That position changed by the following morning after hours of discussion among the Clippers.

Clippers guard Lou Williams controls the ball against the Nuggets.
Clippers guard Lou Williams said players were initially torn on whether they would continue the postseason following the shooting of Jacob Blake.
(Kim Klement / Associated Press)

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“What’s been reported as far as the decision that the Clippers made, it was never a decision,” Williams said. “It was a poll being taken in the room, and what was supposed to happen was there was supposed to be a conversation made why this team feels like this and why this team felt like that. Unfortunately we didn’t get that far. Emotions were running high … So we never had an opportunity to really explain our position, because truth be told, we didn’t really know our positions.

“Emotions were running high. It was a frustrating time. We felt like we should take a strong stance on things that were going on outside of the bubble in real life, and we just didn’t really know how to express that at the time. Thursday we let cooler heads prevail, and I feel like we made the decision that best fit us.”

Williams wrestled with whether to play in June out of concern that basketball’s restart could draw attention away from issues such as police brutality and racial injustice. The team later took a vote and wanted unanimous agreement on whether to head to Florida.

The Clippers reached their decision collectively last week, as well, Williams said, calling consensus-building difficult during “an overwhelming few days.”

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Behind standout defensive play by Gary Harris, the Nuggets stymied Donovan Mitchell and the Jazz to win Game 7 and set up a showdown with the Clippers.

“We’re expected to entertain you guys, save the world, speak up on issues that are very personal, that hits home for us,” Williams said. “We’re overwhelmed. So I think a lot of our opinions and a lot of our feelings reflected that last week, and we had another opportunity to speak again as a group and decided to make a decision and continue to use our platforms.

“Nothing that we’re dealing with is easy. You know, it’s not play, put your career in jeopardy, put your futures on hold. How you make a livelihood? A lot of people are quick to say, ‘Why don’t you guys just stop playing, just don’t play and protest?’ Those same people are going to go to work the next day. Sometimes I just think we get caught up in the entertainment aspect of this business and people kind of forget that this is the way we feed our families and this is our livelihoods.”

Players are required to foot the bill for their guests’ stay, according to the restart plan, which laid out a possibility that players whose seasons extend into the conference finals and finals could bring additional guests. Green asked his girlfriend to wait until mid-September to bring their daughter and son to Disney. It might be a world-famous resort, but families must stay within the league’s strict perimeter, far from the Magic Kingdom, just like the players.

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“I didn’t want them to come here and get bored,” he said. “My kids like to play, like to go outside, so there’s really not much here to do.”

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