PATTEN PENDING: CLIPPERS HAVE BEEN RESILIENT ALL SEASON
OKLAHOMA CITY – Chris Paul walked slowly, painfully, down the hallway inside Chesapeake Energy Arena Tuesday night after the Clippers’ stunning and controversial 105-104 loss to the Thunder in Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals.
Paul was flanked only by a police officer and a team security guard. His head was low.
A few minutes earlier, after the Clippers lost a seven-point lead with 49.2 seconds left to fall behind in the series three games to two, Paul was asked how his team could respond to such a heart-wrenching defeat.
“I don’t know,” a sullen Paul said. “I don’t know.”
Paul was as downtrodden as any time in a postgame news conference. He blamed himself for the loss calling the final minute of the game the “hardest thing” he’s been through “basketball-wise” in his career.
But the Clippers have been through hard before.
For months, Head Coach Doc Rivers has told them to embrace the difficulty of a championship journey. And through everything they have been through, Tuesday is likely just another bump, not a dramatic ending.
“We’ve been regrouping all year, so we will be ready to play when we get to L.A,” Rivers said. “This one is going to hurt, I’m sure guys are feeling bad, we took a lot of bad shots down the stretch, we tried to run clock the out instead of keep playing basketball. None of this would have happened if we had taken care of business, but we didn’t. We’ll be ready.”
They have been ready all year, too. They overcame large deficits, including trailing by 16 points in the fourth quarter Sunday only to win by two. They battled through injuries to Paul and Jamal Crawford and J.J. Redick. They overcame a grueling schedule that included two seven-game road trips. And, of course, they found the energy to win a seven-game series against the Golden State Warriors amidst the controversy surrounding since-banned owner Donald Sterling.
“We’ve got to be resilient,” Matt Barnes said. “We’ve got to regroup. There was stuff down the stretch that caused us that loss, too. So, we’ve got to go back and watch film and try to better on Thursday.”
The word regroup was used often on Thursday. Barnes, Rivers, Paul, Blake Griffin and Darren Collison all mentioned that regrouping will be important in the next 24 hours as they prepare for an elimination game Thursday night.
“We’ve got a day to regroup,” Collison said. “We’ll be feeling better by the time the next game starts. If we do the right things, we can definitely compete with the best of them. I thought we played exceptionally well the whole game besides the last minute, so there are a lot of things we can take from this game. We just got to leave this in the past and take care of the next one.”
The sort of “put the past in the past” attitude has embodied the entire Clippers season. So, heading into Game 6 it would be a shock if they didn’t take it on one last time.