CLIPPERS LEARNING HOW TO WIN TOGETHER
The normally mild-mannered Jamal Crawford seemed angered thinking about it. Blake Griffin got serious when asked about it. Matt Barnes, known much of his career as an agitator, became a little agitated himself when bringing it up.
“It” was the four-straight double-digit losses to the Memphis Grizzlies that ended the Clippers’ season four months ago. It has lived with the seven returning members of the roster for offseason, a frustration that they have even attempted to transfer to the team’s newcomers.
“We don’t like what happened last year and we made that clear to the new guys that are here,” Griffin said Tuesday after the first practice of the new season. “That’s something we need to keep up all season, playing with that chip on our shoulder and playing like we have something to prove—which we do.”
After two straight seasons of regular-season success, including the franchise’s first Pacific Division title, the Clippers still have plenty to prove. Playoff success is a challenge in and of itself, seeking to uncover the perfect combination of talent, matchups, strategy and good fortune to win a title. The Clippers are tasked with doing it without a single player with an NBA championship.
That’s where 2008 NBA champion, Doc Rivers, comes in. He’s made more Finals appearances as a coach (two) than his Clippers players have collectively (one). It’s not too far from where Rivers was in Boston when Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen arrived in 2007-08.
“I’m trying to think in 2008 when we won we had [two guys], so we didn’t have a lot on that team either,” Rivers said. “I can only talk so much about that. This is a new group, a new team and we have to find our way ourselves we have to find our own path and that’s what we are going to do.”
That said, Rivers’ pedigree should carry weight in the locker room and has already in the early days of training camp.
“Right off the bat he commands respect,” Griffin said Tuesday. “He’s a coach who’s been through the ringer. He knows how to win. He knows how to get to championship games. He knows how to win big games. That experience is invaluable. You can’t really replace that.”
The experience can be powerful when it comes to communicating, according to point guard Darren Collison, who also played for 2011 NBA champion Rick Carlisle last season in Dallas.
“It gets our attention,” Collison said. “Anytime a coach has already won it, he already has your respect and I think every time Doc talks we’re silent and we’re listening to every word he has to say because he’s been there before. And he has what we need.”
The path Rivers mentioned has already been etched, at least somewhat. It is often agreed upon, and sometimes overstated, that no champion avoids adversity on their way to a title. Isiah Thomas had to go through the Celtics. Michael Jordan had to go through Isiah. Even Rivers’ Celtics two decades later endured back-to-back seven-game series victories and overcame a 24-point margin in Game 4 of the Finals.
Griffin, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan have shared two years of adversity together, playing through injuries in the 2012 Playoffs before a humbling sweep at the hands of the Spurs and last year’s unexpected early exit. Crawford, Barnes, Willie Green and Ryan Hollins shared in the misery of the latter.
“Adversity kind of shows what kind of team we are,” Griffin said. “Those lessons, hopefully we learn from those. But you can’t really learn from them unless you address them and you accept them.”
And as they go through it, learning to win together is certainly part of the process toward redemption.
“To win the first two games and then really get swept out of the playoffs was a slap in the face,” Barnes said. “I know every time I saw someone or talked to them during the summer that came up in the conversation 9 out of 10 times. That’s something that’s still burning in us and it seems like it’s been a year since we’ve had a chance to play because we went out on such a sour note.
“I speak for myself and the rest of my teammates when I say we’re very excited to get back to work and redeem ourselves.”