Doc Rivers doesn’t often disagree with referees’ calls. Armed with 36 years of league experience, including the last 21 as head coach, he understands that the men in gray can’t possibly get everything right. As far as he’s concerned, it’s enough that they try their best. Yesterday, however, he saw fit to voice his displeasure with a whistle late in the Clippers’ set-to against the Blazers. With 18.6 ticks left in the payoff period and his charges up one, he felt the contact that sent a driving Damian Lillard to the line was incidental at best. And so he made his sentiments known, never mind his reluctance for protest and notwithstanding the contest’s relative lack of bearing.
Rivers was simply being competitive, of course. Top dog Kawhi Leonard was out, and, for strategic purposes, he kept second-leading scorer Paul George glued to the bench in the last five minutes of the match. Still, he wanted to win it, if for nothing else than to boost the confidence of the second stringers burning rubber; after seeing them turn a five-point deficit into a one-point lead over the previous two and a half minutes, he felt they deserved to walk off with victory at hand. But because there was to be no changing the arbiters’ minds, he fully expected the lead to change hands anew with Lillard walking to the stripe for two charities.
As things turned out, Lillard came up with nothing. He missed badly on his free throws; as with his tries outside the paint in the fourth quarter, he could do no better than hit the front end of the rim. Considering his continual capacity to deliver come “Dame Time,” the development was a “surprise” to Blazers mentor Terry Stott and a “shock” to Rivers. Not to noted foils Patrick Beverley and Paul George, though, who celebrated with gusto in the moment and then, to add insult to injury, piled on in social media following the Clippers triumph.
The ensuing trading of barbs between the prideful players underscores both their competitiveness and the lengths they’re willing to go through to show it. Beverley was predictably the instigator, and Lillard couldn’t help but dig in as always. George, however, was a revelation, dishing out in his post-mortem with scribes and doubling down on the net before playing the sympathy card by referencing his six surgeries. Given the extent of the back and forth, it’s too bad the Blazers and Clippers aren’t likely to meet again this season.
In any case, fans shouldn’t fret. Long memories will keep the beef alive, with the protagonists counting the days until the next encounter, and then the next, and so on. Which is to say the games should be interesting at the very least; they certainly can’t come soon enough.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.