“I’m going to do my job—whatever it takes with the team,” Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers said during his pregame press conference ahead of an emotionally charged Game 5.
Rivers admitted he was unsure who exactly to go to on matters above him because he did not fully understand who was in charge of the team, but the coach was adamant that he would still do his job.
On Tuesday, Rivers did just that and guided his team to a vital 113-103 victory at Staples Center to take a 3-2 series lead against the Golden State Warriors.
The Clippers fought through distractions, uncertainty and incredible adversity to claim the immensely important victory. For the Clippers, the lead up to Game 5 had been anything but typical.
Following a devastating loss in Game 4 on Sunday, Rivers gave his players the day off on Monday. During his pregame press conference, the Clippers’ coach admitted that he had told his guys to take the day off for non-basketball reasons, as the fallout from a recording that allegedly featured Clippers owner making racially insensitive remarks had reached a fever pitch.
Then, on Tuesday, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver held a press conference and made a bold announcement: Sterling would be banned from the NBA and Clippers organization for life. Silver reacted with the harshest punishment available to him, and the commissioner would actively encourage a sale of the Clippers sooner rather than later.
Around the time Silver was making his announcement, Rivers was hosting his team at its practice facility for their routine morning shootaround. However, this was not a routine shootaround, as the players were shielded from the media and would not take part in their regular media availability.
As the game approached, the two coaches sat down with reporters and answered questions. The entire half hour of conversation involving the two coaches and reporters revolved around the commissioner’s decision and the fallout from the audio tapes.
Seemingly, everyone forgot the importance of Game 5 in a seven-game series. With a serie tied at 2-2, the pivotal game would decide if the Warriors could close the series on their home floor or the Clippers would have the opportunity to win the series on their home court.
Breaking routine again, the media was not allowed to enter either locker room prior to the game. Although the coaches were willing to momentarily take their minds off the immensely important game at hand, the players would be protected. Still, the emotion of the occasion was too much to ignore.
"One of the most emotional things I think I've been a part of," Clippers point guard Chris Paul described the feeling of taking the court on Tuesday. "It was amazing running out there for warm ups to see all the people lined up, to see our fans."
It was not just the players and the coaches that were having an emotional day at the office. The Clippers’ employees all wore black as a sign of unity and turned up to an arena void of sponsors. In the wake of the comments, the majority of corporate sponsors dropped out and did not want to be associated with the voice on the audio tape.
Entering the arena, signage and electronic advertising boards were either blank or replaced with “We Are One,” which had quickly become a rallying cry for the Clippers team. Even the media credentials featured a black line where Chumash Casino once proudly listed its name on the press pass.
Although the entire crowd did not turn up wearing all black, the home fans took to the motto and spirit of unity. When the Clippers’ Spirit dancers took the floor wearing all black, the audience stood and applauded warmly. During the fourth quarter, the public announcer led the crowd in chants of “We Are One” that raised decibel levels beyond anything previously experienced by Clipper Nation this season--possibly ever.
“This was such an emotional game,” Rivers said afterward. In the days leading up to the pivotal game, the coach pleaded with fans to come out and support the team. “That was as good as I’ve ever seen (the fans).”
In the box score, DeAndre Jordan was the star of the game, as the Clippers’ big man finished with 25 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks. However, Tuesday’s game was not about isolating and identifying individuals.
The Clippers, as a team, overcame extreme adversity and off-court distractions to win a crucial game. Talking about his players as a whole, Rivers added, “I thought they were great. I was really proud of them.”