In the waning moments of the Clippers’ blowout win over the Celtics, Boston’s longtime trainer Eddie Lacerte tapped Rivers on the shoulder and told him to look up at the Lakers' championship banners and retired jerseys looming over them during the Clippers’ home game.
“Look at that,” Lacerte told him. “Man, I would never have that.”
“Well, he’s right,” Rivers recalls thinking at the time.
Little did Rivers know a few months later he would leave Boston and become the Clippers’ head coach and senior vice president of basketball operations ... and be in a position to redecorate Staples Center for Clippers home games, as Lacerte suggested.
“Again, the Lakers can blame a Boston guy,” Rivers joked when asked at the beginning of the season to explain why the Clippers chose to cover up the Lakers' championship banners and retired jerseys with oversized images of their team's players.
“It's the Clipper court and that's the way we feel,” Rivers said.
After Monday’s 106-98 win over the Milwaukee Bucks, the Clippers are 31-5 this season on their home court. It’s the best home record among Western Conference teams, by two games. Only the Indiana Pacers (32-4) have a better record at home.
Building that home-court advantage was paramount on Rivers’ list when he took the Clippers’ job nine months ago.
“I think home court is the No. 1 thing,” Rivers said. “The road is hard. The road on the West is brutal, so you need some place where you have a blanket, if you’re using Charlie Brown analogies. You need somewhere where you can feel good. You can go on a West Coast trip and struggle, and then you see yourself coming back home and you feel good again. And then you can go back on the road and maybe win. I think it’s really important.
“I think it saved us in Boston, in 2008 at least. I just think that’s really important. You’re still going to lose a home game eventually in the playoffs. But you feel like, let’s get one so we can get that advantage back. You fight for it a little more in some ways when you’re more confident at home.”
The Clippers, who now have won a season-high eight straight games at home and nine straight at Staples Center, began the process of building a home-court advantage before Rivers arrived this season. Since the beginning of the 2011-12 season, only the Oklahoma City Thunder, Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs have a better cumulative home record than the Clippers.
Those three teams have combined for five NBA Finals appearances and two titles during that time.
The Clippers are still trying to make it past the second round of the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. As good as the Clippers are at home, Rivers understands Clippers home games won’t be thought of similarly until the Clippers have the same success in the postseason as those teams.
“We have to win more,” Rivers said. “The regular season is not going to scare anybody. But if we can keep doing it and get through the playoffs doing it then they know, and that would be very important for us.”
While the Clippers have the second-best home record in the league, they are just 19-16 on the road. Only one other playoff-positioned team in the West has lost as many games on the road, and before the Clippers’ recent 11-game winning streak, they were the only such team with a losing record on the road.
The Clippers’ upcoming five-game road trip, which begins Wednesday in New Orleans, will go a long way toward proving they’ve learned to win more consistently on the road.
“It’s very important for us,” Chris Paul said. “If you look at it, we have one of the best records at home in the entire NBA, but our road record is not one of the best. That’s where we have to get better. That’s what Doc tells us day in and day out. Over the course of the playoffs, we will lose at home at some point and you got to be able to win on the road.”
Rivers, however, doesn’t necessarily think the Clippers winning their next five games away from home will help them win on the road in the playoffs.
“It’s a big trip for us, but I don’t know if it is for the playoffs,” Rivers said. “Winning on the road helps, but I just think winning helps and wherever you win, it helps. If we do win them all does that help us with the playoffs? I’m going to say no, it doesn’t.”
Back at home, the Clippers have been so successful in large part to an improved defense. The Clippers are 16-0 at home when preventing opponents from exceeding 43 percent shooting.
The crowd, which has dressed in red during the past two postseasons, hasn’t hurt either. The Clippers are in the midst of a 130-game sellout streak at Staples Center. The Clippers have sold out every regular-season and playoff game at home since Feb. 2, 2011. It is the sixth longest active streak in the NBA.
The Clippers also rarely lose after taking a lead at home. This season, the Clippers are 22-1 when leading or tied after the first quarter, 25-0 when leading or tied after halftime, and 29-1 when leading or tied after the third quarter.
“It’s something you should lean on,” Rivers said. “We’re trying to make this what we’ve made it. A place that when you walk in here, you understand this is our place and this is a hard place to play. That goes a long way and we got to keep building on that. I thought in Boston we did a good job of re-establishing that place as that, and we’re trying to establish that here. If we can do that, that’s going to be huge for us.”