Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers was running hot following his squad's Game 5 road loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second round of the 2014 NBA playoffs on Tuesday. Rivers was explicit in his criticism about the officiating and instant replay and how they contributed to the Clippers' collapse.
While it wasn't Rivers' finest hour, his tirade is more forgivable than usual in light of the unique circumstances surrounding his team. Now that L.A. returns to Staples Center facing elimination, there is no greater incentive to stay alive than a blown opportunity to steal a win in Oklahoma Cit—especially with how Game 5 finished to put the Clippers down 3-2 in the series.
Most of the key portions of Rivers' eruption was transcribed by the NBA on ESPN's official Twitter account:
"Let's take away the replay system. Because that's our ball, we win the game. And we got robbed because of that call." - Doc Rivers— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) May 14, 2014
"That could be a series-defining call. And that's not right." - Doc Rivers on disputed replay with 11.3 seconds left. #LACvsOKC— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) May 14, 2014
The Clippers had built a seven-point lead with less than a minute remaining. Even though Rivers was angry at some of the calls late in the dramatic contest, he did acknowledge how his side made "a comedy of errors" to suffer a the heartbreaking defeat.
League commissioner Adam Silver could be dishing out a hefty fine to Rivers after assessing the maximum amount to Clippers owner Donald Sterling and banning him for life for his infamous racist remarks.
This controversial issue is something the Clippers have had to fight through all postseason, and yet Rivers has somehow managed to keep his club together. When the chance to set up a close-out Game 6 back home fell through due to poor officiating, it's understandable that Rivers reacted the way he did.
Superstar point guard Chris Paul refused to cast blame elsewhere after a couple of late turnovers and a foul on a three-point attempt by his Thunder counterpart Russell Westbrook essentially cost the Clippers the win, per DailyThunder.com's Royce Young:
Chris Paul: "It's me. Everything that happened at the end is on me."— Royce Young (@royceyoung) May 14, 2014
Jay Caspian Kang, a former writer for Grantland and a contributor to The New Yorker, referenced what's at stake for Paul and his legacy for the remainder of this series in his tweet:
I like Chris Paul and advanced stats, but if he can't get out of round 2 again, that's gotta be your lede whenever you write about him.— jay caspian kang (@jaycaspiankang) May 14, 2014
If Paul is indeed the franchise leader the Clippers expect him to be, he needs to prove the perception that he's the best point guard in the NBA by backing it up in Thursday's Game 6. That has nothing to do with Rivers, and it is a great sign that Paul is taking full blame for L.A.'s failure to seal the deal Tuesday.
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The private remarks made by team owner Donald Sterling is certainly out of the hands of Rivers and his players. And he and the Clippers have handled it as well as possible to date. Thus, Rivers' rant shouldn't be viewed as a cry for help or blaming factors out of his control for his team's plight.
It can be argued that Rivers was trying to take the burden off of Paul's shoulders after his blunders in crunch time. As has been a theme here, what happened to the Clippers in the stunning loss wasn't in Rivers' direct control, so he did what he could to spin the blame toward the officiating. Whether that was Rivers' intent not entirely clear, but if he's successful in taking some of the strain off Paul, then that could assist the floor general in his quest for redemption.
Between the need for Paul to prove himself in clutch situations and the resiliency L.A. showed to adjust to numerous injuries during the regular season, Rivers' conduct following Game 5 won't be detrimental. If anything, it may provide a spark to show how fervent the coach's belief in his team is—and how they still deserved to win Game 5, despite rather poor play down the stretch.
Sterling has been the undermining force for the Clippers, not Rivers, whose postgame outburst is a microcosm of what's been plaguing the team in recent weeks. Rivers' impassioned testimony regarding the referees reflects more on his will to win, which can't be denied based on his previous hoisting of the Larry O'Brien Trophy in Boston.
The fact remains that Rivers is the stalwart leadership authority who can help Paul, Blake Griffin and the rest of this gifted Clippers core get over the playoff hump. Even though he lost his composure during Tuesday's postgame presser, Rivers is the reason L.A. has advanced this far, and his coaching savvy and uncanny ability to juggle egos learned from his days leading the Celtics will aid the Clippers' efforts to carry on.