Leave it to head coach Doc Rivers to set a tone. With his Los Angeles Clippers facing a daunting challenge in the Oklahoma City Thunder, he won't hear any excuses—certainly not of the Donald Sterling variety.
Rivers aired his feelings before Game 4 on whether the Sterling scandal had distracted his guys from the task at hand, according to NBCSports.com's Brett Pollakoff: "I’ve heard that talk a lot over the last two days. I just don’t want to hear it, I’ll put it that way. Listen, the playoffs are emotional. Obviously we’ve been through some other stuff. We can’t run from that. But you’ve just got to get through it. I don’t believe in that."
Rivers may be growing tired of the circus. The attention drawn by Sterling is nothing new. Before Game 3, he was peppered with questions. The Los Angeles Times' Broderick Turner recounts the scene:
Rivers wanted to talk about how his Clippers [were] tied 1-1 with the Oklahoma City Thunder in the best-of-seven Western Conference playoff series and how L.A. was preparing for Game 3 Friday night at Staples Center. He wanted to talk about how they need to contain Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. He wanted to talk about how proud he was of Jamal Crawford being named the NBA's sixth man of the year. Instead, Rivers spent about half of his almost 15-minute interview with the media talking about the Sterlings.
After it emerged that estranged wife Shelly Sterling was interested in retaining the club, Rivers went on record saying, per ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne that, "it would be a very hard situation" for Sterling's wife to remain empowered.
Interest in the subject isn't going away, but Rivers seems to believe his guys can get through it. It's never easy to guess how an event like this will affect the psychology of a team. The initial revelations certainly seemed to impact the team during Game 4 of the first round.
The Clippers lost that game by a final score of 118-97.
Going forward, the impact of the scandal should theoretically dissipate. The NBA took a strong stand against Sterling with a lifetime ban from the league (and team), a maximum $2.5 million fine and an owner-led effort to oust the disgraced owner from the team. Justice has yet to be served in its entirety, but commissioner Adam Silver certainly got off to a demonstrative start.
As for Rivers, it's hard to imagine a coach better-equipped to handle a situation like this. He's beloved by his organization and players. He's very proficient at messaging. And his no-nonsense attitude has to have a carry-over effect on his players. It doesn't hurt that Chris Paul reinforces that identity on the court.
However the conference semifinals end up, the Clippers will be a tough out. Rivers wouldn't have it any other way.
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