PLAYA VISTA, CALIF — It’s no secret that the final minute of Monday’s Game 5 still stings the Los Angeles Clippers, but it is something that the team is getting past due in large part to head coach Doc Rivers.
Rivers had voiced his displeasure with the calls made on the final plays of the game in particular in the play that was ruled by the officials that the possession of the ball remained with the Thunder despite replays showing the ball going off of Reggie Jackson. It was a rant that the Clippers’ players felt was necessary.
“It was needed. He has done a great job all year of being the shield of this team with all the stuff that has come up late since the start of the playoffs,” Matt Barnes said.”He has done a good job of letting us just play basketball.”
Rivers throughout this year’s playoffs has kept a tight lid for the most part on all the drama that has surrounded the Clippers. His support is more omnipresent for the players especially after he gave a heart heartfelt speech to the team on the plane trip back to Los Angeles, and it has given the team a sense of confidence in themselves to push past the outside noise and perceived drama around the team.
“We were up there playing cards (on the flight) and Doc came in and talked to us,” Barnes said. “It gave me butterflies almost.(I immediately thought) ‘this guy really has our back and he believes how we believe.’ He reiterated stuff and told us to enjoy it and come ready to play in Game 6.”
Barnes along with teammates gave their support to Chris Paul after the game as he took the blame for the loss as committed two turnovers and fouled Russell Westbrook on the 3-point attempt final 44 seconds of the fourth quarter that allowed the Thunder to squeeze out a 105-104 win.
“A lot comes with being great,” Barnes said. “You get a lot of blame when you lose and a lot of praise when you win, and unfortunately it went the other way this time. We let him know it wasn’t any one play and we win as a team and lose as a team. I have no doubt that he will back to himself today.”
As for the loss for Barnes, he still feels the pain of it, but knows that this has provided his team the chance to keep the series alive with a Game 6 win.
“It still hurts but there is nothing we can do about it now,” Barnes said.” We know we have a unique opportunity to take care of home court tonight, and force a Game 7 and that is what we are focused on.”
Barnes also added that the Game 5 loss will be “fuel to our fire” and they will have to let that sting of the defeat go as the team must turn their attention to win or go home Game 6 on Thursday night. Individually, the 10-year veteran has plenty to think about in terms of basketball as he will once again be met with the tough task of defending the 2013-14 NBA MVP in Kevin Durant with hopes duplicating another tough night offensive as he had on Monday night as he shot 6-of-22 (28 percent) from the field.
“I just got to get in him,” Barnes said. “In the first few games I was off him a little because I didn’t want him to beat me off the dribble but I think I have been a lot more aggressive by getting into his body even if he gets by me I am still late contesting those shots. (Especially) when I swing around behind his head and side views its a little more difficult (for him) to make shots.”
As for Jamal Crawford, he echoed many of the same sentiments of his teammate that the loss did hurt, but stated that the team is in a good mental state of mind and is focused on the task at hand.
“We are in a good mental place,” Crawford said. “Obviously guys were really frustrated and down but I think it is good to be that way to get it out and move forward from there.”
Crawford also stated that he was in full support of Rivers’ comments following the Game 5 loss as he too knows that his head coach has the teams’ back regardless of the situation.
“Honestly had our back the whole way through and he has been great,” Crawford said. “He felt a way about a situation and we backed him up for sure. But it is what it is so now we have to move forward.”
The 2013-14 Sixth Man of the Year is confident that the team will play within themselves rather than force things in a crucial Game 6 as he referenced the team having to play stretches without Paul and himself during the regular season along with facing the adversity of dropping the first game of the first-round series at home against the Golden State Warriors and ultimately moving on to the next round after a grueling seven-games series.
But even with the deck stacked seemingly against them in a 3-2 series deficit that will require them to not only defeat the Thunder at Staples Center but also win Game 7 at Chesapeake Energy Arena, the Clippers do not lack any confidence that they can accomplish that feat.
“I just feel that this is our destiny and this is just a bump in the road,” Barnes said. “It’s been a crazy season and a fun season. It’s been a lot of unfortunate events throughout the playoffs, but it building character and brings us closer together. It’s going to a great story at the end.”