LOS ANGELES -- Long before the regular season was over, Doc Rivers began planting the seed in his players’ heads, preparing them for this day.
“You’re going to lose a home game in the playoffs,” he told them. “It’s going to happen and when it does, you’re going to have to respond and win on the road.”
Chris Paul smiled when reminded of his coach’s message.
“It’s Doc’s fault,” Paul said. “He spoke it into existence.”
Rivers laughed while recalling the message he had drilled into his players for the better part of this season.
“I didn’t mean that,” Rivers said. “I didn’t actually mean it. Now I meant it, but before I was kind of joking around, but you have to be prepared for that obviously. You obviously don’t want to drop the first game but we did and now we have to do something about it.”
The Clippers weren’t alone in dropping their first home game of the playoffs. By Sunday night, a record five road teams had won the first game of their first-round series.
But there was something different about the Clippers’ loss. They were careful not to call it an aberration or a fluke but it was certainly an odd game they don’t expect to be duplicated again in this series, or again during this postseason if they do advance.
Blake Griffin, who will likely finish third in the MVP voting this season, played less than four minutes in the first half with three fouls and played just 19 minutes in the game before fouling out with 16 points. Never before in Griffin’s career had he played less than 20 minutes in a game in which he wasn’t injured. He fouled out of the game with the score tied at 105-105 and 50.8 seconds remaining in the game.
Chris Paul was also playing with five fouls and was limited to 36 minutes. In the playoffs, Rivers was expected to lean heavily on his starters, as he did with DeAndre Jordan, who played 45 minutes.
“I thought the game was called very close and unfortunately for us, our two best players were the ones that bared the brunt of that,” Rivers said. “Chris was in foul trouble and Blake was in foul trouble. When Blake plays 19 minutes that was not my game plan. I didn't have that in my notes. It did affect us.”
It was an off night for the Clippers’ normally dependable reserves as Jamal Crawford was 2-for-11, Darren Collison was 2-for-9 and Danny Granger was 1-for-6. The Clippers also missed 12 free throws with seven of those misses coming from Paul, Collison and Crawford, who all shot at least 86 percent from the line during the season.
During the regular season the Clippers were 32-0 at home when leading at any point in the fourth quarter but that streak was snapped Saturday. And the Clippers were 36-1 when hitting at least nine 3-pointers in a game. Saturday provided just their second loss after they made 10 from beyond the arc.
The Clippers had more than enough chances to win the game during the final two minutes but fumbled away almost every one of those chances, which was a big reason why they weren’t too hung up on officiating or the foul trouble Griffin and Paul were in.
“We had a lot of opportunities and we just didn’t capitalize on them,” Rivers said. “Give (Golden State) credit. They did. They made all the big shots. They did enough and they really deserved to win the game.”
Rivers said he wouldn’t “re-invent the wheel” going into Game 2 and doesn’t want Griffin playing any differently despite the foul trouble he was in on Saturday.
“Blake needs to play even more intense and even more aggressive and not go the other way,” Rivers said. “I actually thought two of his fouls came from not trying to foul. You could see he was trying to stay out of the way. On both of those he should’ve rotated earlier like he was supposed to, but he was so concerned about fouls. He said it affected him, but that’s human.”
It’s hard to call Game 2 of a seven-game series a “must-win game” but Monday is pretty close with the next two games of the series being up at Oracle Arena, a building the Clippers haven’t won at in nearly two years.
"We need to win, there's no doubt about it," Rivers said. "You don't want to go down 0-2 going to Golden State, there's no doubt about that. But I really believe each game is that way. I'm not going to do anything different because it's a game that you need to win. You still have to play well. You have to play the same."