RIVERS LED CLIPPERS THROUGH THE FIRE
Doc Rivers moved west to coach and help assemble a championship-caliber roster for the Clippers. But nearly 11 months after he arrived in Los Angeles, Rivers was doing everything but focusing solely on basketball.
He had become part figurehead, part motivational speaker, part sympathizer and part voice of reason. It was unenviable, but entirely necessary.
Rivers, who in addition to serving as Head Coach is also the Clippers’ Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations, prepared for Game 7 against the Warriors and a few hours later spoke to a group of dozens of staff members at Staples Center to lend an ear and provide some semblance of calm amidst an unprecedented storm.
“There are so many emotions and you’re coaching a team with 14-15 guys, so guys have different opinions,” Jamal Crawford said. “But getting guys to buy in and believe even if they don’t have that point of view at that time is special.”
Crawford’s words represented much of the entire team’s, not just during crisis but throughout the season.
Rivers was a protector, a motivator and master planner.
“I mean, the Xs and Os and the things on the court, they speak for themselves,” Blake Griffin said. “But the mental side that he brings, just his experience as a coach and almost his stories he tells and the way he reads basketball situations, I think is interesting and unique. Every time he speaks during practice, for me, it’s a learning experience, whether it’s a short speech that he didn’t put much thought into or whether it’s something that he really wants to bring home to us.”
The words mattered when Rivers brought the Clippers together early in the fourth quarter of an eventual 17-point rally in the fourth quarter on Jan. 15 against the Mavericks the same way they did in an emotional locker-room setting following their Game 7 victory over the Warriors.
“Maybe someday 50 years from now there will be t-shirts and Instagrams of Doc Rivers quotes,” J.J. Redick said earlier this season, his first with Rivers on the sideline. “A lot of coaches speak in generalities and clichés and you’ve heard all that stuff. But a lot of what Doc says is pretty original.”
DeAndre Jordan added: “He just makes you want to run through a brick wall for him. That’s what he puts in everybody. And it’s not just because the way he talks, it’s how he looks at you in the eyes so you know that it’s something that he really believes in.”
Jordan was among the chief believers in Rivers. He put together a career season, six years since joining the Clippers as second round pick in 2008. He increased his rebounding average by 6.4 per game from a season ago and became the defensive caretaker that Rivers had envisioned when he first talked to Jordan last summer.
But it wasn’t just Jordan who was boosted by Rivers. In many ways it was the entire organization. That was something that was never more obvious during the two-week period of upheaval in May when Rivers took on a role far beyond a basketball coach or personnel man. He rallied the entire organization.
“I’ve really grown to admire us as a team more and more,” Griffin said. “How we’ve handled things and certain situations we’ve been in.”
More than anything, that’s what Rivers may have been looking to instill in everyone from the top down: a sense of pride even in the most adverse situations.