LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Clippers are still in the beginning stages of piecing together their postseason scrapbook.
When it comes to leaning back on playoff experience, there isn’t much flexibility for a franchise that has never made it past the second round, which is as far as Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have gone.
Even that simple fact routinely gets forgotten by their own head coach as Doc Rivers has often mentioned this season that the Clippers haven’t gotten past the first round despite the fact that they did so two seasons ago while he was with the Boston Celtics and the Clippers were coached by Vinny Del Negro.
“Going into it,” Rivers said, “the one advantage I thought that Golden State had was that they’ve already done it.”
By “done it,” Rivers was referring to the fact that the Warriors advanced past the first round last year before losing to the San Antonio Spurs in the second round. Something the Clippers did two years ago before losing in the first round last year, which is the memory fresh in the mind of Rivers and most casual observers.
“This was a totally different team,” Paul said. “I think me, Blake and DJ may be the only guys that are left from that team. So us three can draw back from that. But we just have to go out there and play. It doesn’t matter about the future or the past. It just matters about right now.”
It’s the kind of mindset that Rivers has tried to instill in the Clippers this season. He has conducted “playoff practices” since training camp opened six months ago. He began talking to them about coming back after losing a home game in the playoffs around the All-Star break. He told them to envision themselves wearing championship rings as the season came to a close.
With no championship photos in the Clippers’ postseason scrapbook, Rivers essentially asked his players to use their imagination. Their destiny and their future was theirs to create and mold.
That’s why most of his players were smiling and laughing before Game 2 on Monday night despite being down 0-1 in the series. They knew this day would come sooner or later and weren’t about to overreact to one game that most players chalked up to an officiating aberration that allowed Griffin to play for only 19 minutes.
“I think we were a little encouraged because we played so poorly and they played well Saturday,” said Griffin, who had a career-high 35 points in 30 minutes on Monday. “We were still in the game, the game was tied with whatever left, less than a minute, and I think we just kind of looked at our mistakes, tried to rectify them and tried to correct them. I think the big difference was, you know, tonight we were actually more relaxed, [looser] than we were going up into Game 1, even being down 0-1. You can just tell in the locker room [that] everybody was relaxed, everybody was so confident that we just got to come in and execute.”
Monday was just one game but it felt like it could be more than that for the Clippers. It felt like one of those playoff moments that the Clippers could build upon. Faced with adversity to open this postseason, they responded with a 138-98 win. It was the Clippers' largest margin of victory in the playoffs and the most points scored in a playoff game in franchise history.
Before the end of the season Rivers was asked if he thought he knew what kind of a team he ha. “I think so but I’m not sure,” he said. The uncertainty came from not having coached this team in the playoffs, which is the true test of knowing what kind of a team you have. After his first playoff victory as the Clippers' coach, Rivers is beginning to have a better feel for the team he has.
“It’s what I thought,” Rivers said. “As Dennis Green said, ‘They are who I thought they are.’ And they are. They just did it tonight. The other night, I didn’t think that was us at all. I thought we had one of those relapses, and tonight we played like we are capable of playing.”
The Clippers were just as loose after the game as they were before the game, many of the players’ children running around the locker room and wrestling each other on the floor. One of Rivers biggest points of emphasis with the team this season was putting bad plays and bad games behind them, and they never lost more than two games in a row this season. They weren’t about to put themselves in a position to see if they could extend that run before going up to Oakland this week.
“We’ve shown all season long that we bounce back pretty well,” Paul said. “We showed that when we play with force and aggressiveness and play together what we’re capable of. It’s only one game. Those guys did what they were supposed to do. They came here and got one. And now we have to go try to get Game 3.”