Clippers, Rivers can finally exhale


LOS ANGELES -- Doc Rivers finally let loose.

After being the calming voice and face of a franchise in turmoil for the past week, Rivers finally let his emotions spill over.

With two seconds left in the Los Angeles Clippers' 126-121 win over the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 on Saturday night at Staples Center, Rivers started pumping his fists and high-fiving everyone in sight -- fans, players, even the team's television analyst, Michael Smith.

"I just thought this team really needed the game," Rivers said. "I just wanted us to win the game. Not because of not winning last year, I just thought with all this stuff, this team just needed a win. My excitement was not for me at all, it was for everybody. I wanted the fans to get excited. They were almost sitting there in shock, and I just wanted them to get excited and exhale for a second."

Rivers and the Clippers never had much of a chance to exhale over the past week. Last Saturday, they were holding a team meeting at the Four Seasons in San Francisco trying to decide if they would even play basketball in the wake of racist comments made by Clippers owner Donald Sterling being made public on TMZ late Friday night.

They didn't know it at the time, but they were in the eye of what would become an international storm that would eventually engulf Sterling, who was consequently banned for life by the NBA and was on the verge of prematurely ending what they thought was going to be a championship season.

"There's not a team that has gone through this," Blake Griffin said. "I remember Saturday morning, when everything had hit, you could see certain players that were really emotionally about the situation. This was the first day, and it got bigger. At the point when we had the meeting, it was a huge thing, but it just grew and grew and grew with each day and each hour, honestly, and it just wore on guys. We tried to put it off to the side, but it's impossible."

Rivers took the brunt of the attention and questions when the story broke. The team had decided collectively that he would be its voice during the controversy and lead them through the unknown as best as he possibly could while they tried to focus on basketball. Over the next six days, however, Rivers became much more than the team's head coach and general manager, he became the leader of a franchise in desperate need of leadership.

He drove to meet and comfort team employees in tears at the team's downtown offices Friday and kept his office door open at the team's training facility like a counselor for anyone needing to talk. His leadership hasn't gone unnoticed by the league, which is currently searching for an interim CEO and will be consulting Rivers during the process.

Rivers was hired last June to help lead the Clippers to a championship, but in many ways, his ability to lead the team through one of the most turbulent weeks any team has ever gone through was just as important.

"Honestly, I don't think you could handle it any better," Jamal Crawford said. "There are so many emotions, and you're coaching a team with 14 guys with different opinions, and getting everyone to buy in and believe is special, and he does that all the time."

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