MEMPHIS – Neither Clippers head coach Doc Rivers nor Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger were in their respective positions when the Clippers and Grizzlies met in both the 2012 and 2013 playoffs.
But both coaches know about the rivalry that’s blossomed since the teams split those playoff series.
Rivers said some of his players get into the rivalry, while others try to treat it like other games. He said the rivalry would be greater if either team won a championship, but he did acknowledge the rivalry exists between the two fan bases.
That was clear as the Memphis crowd booed every time Blake Griffin touched the ball.
“It’s a rivalry between us two,” Rivers said. “I don’t think nationally anybody knows, but I think in LA and in Memphis, we consider it a rivalry. We’ve played each other, what twice, three times in the playoffs. All our games are, for whatever reason, a little nastier. I think that’s good for everybody, at least for the two cities.”
Rivers elaborated on whether or not he thinks teams need to be championship contenders to develop a rivalry:
“You can be two bad teams and have a rivalry, if you’re in the same state,” he said. “I’m not sure what everyone calls a rivalry, I guess is what I’m saying. Does anyone have a definition for that? If you’re in the same state, is it a rivalry? We played one series in Boston against Orlando and the next year it was a rivalry. I was thinking, ‘I don’t think this is a rivalry,’ but everyone else did. I don’t know.
“If two teams call it one, I guess it is. If they have emotion toward each other, it may not be a rivalry, but it’s something. I think these two teams have played each other a thousand times, so it’s natural that it’s a rivalry or it’s something else, and they’re both still good. I think that does help that both teams have to be good teams, for the most part... But you could go to college, and that’s not true all the time.”
As a Grizzlies assistant since 2007, Joerger had a good seat for those playoff series between the teams, even if he wasn’t a head coach at the time. The Grizzlies have gotten the better of the Clippers recently and are now 3-1 in the regular season matchup since last year, but he said it’s fun every time his group sees the Clippers.
“You want to play in these kinds of games,” Joerger said. “It’s a high emotion, physical, rugged game. I don’t think at any point it’s ever been dirty. I think it’s just high level competition and two teams that obviously have a history just going at it. You know you have to play as well as you can individually and as a team.”
Despite some early season struggles, Joerger said he won’t be surprised to see the Clippers reel off nine or 10 wins in a row soon once they get in a rhythm. Joerger enjoys being a part of the rivalry between the teams, but there’s no hatred on his side.
“Doc’s a great coach, they’ve got great players and I have a great deal of respect for all of them,” Joerger said. “Just to be kind of in the party, a little bit, it’s pretty cool.”