Clips not set for closing arguments


LOS ANGELES -- Since the greatest intrigue about the Los Angeles Clippers is in the legality of team ownership and the NBA's say in it, maybe we should think of the basketball players in lawsuit terms. We're still in the discovery phase about them, sifting through the evidence to see exactly what we have on our hands here as the Clippers face a 2-1 deficit to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

So far the Clippers have shown an inability to handle prosperity. Three times in these playoffs they have taken a series lead and then lost the next game. The flipside is they've responded well to danger, whether it was a 1-0 deficit to the Golden State Warriors or a Game 7.

"That's the urgency you have to play with in the playoffs," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "And quite honestly, I think we've been in and out of that. That's, right now, the lessons we're learning. You can still keep getting better all through the playoffs. That's why you don't panic.

"I do think that's the one advantage Oklahoma has had over us in this series. They have several guys that have been to the Finals, and they get it. They get the urgency of every single possession. And we've been in and out of that throughout the playoffs. For us to keep going, we have to get that every-possession urgency."

And this is where it turns from the legal to the philosophical. How will the Clippers respond to their suddenly perilous position? They're up against a team that is equally talented, more experienced and has regained home-court advantage. To win the series, the Clippers must win three consecutive games from the Thunder or beat them on the road in a Game 7. It's now a matter of existentialism, finding a way to press on in the face of gloomy prospects.

If you like "Mad Men," you'll be fascinated by this. The Clippers are Don Draper, trying to distance themselves from their past while dealing with some suddenly public internal battles. The premise laid out in the pilot episode was how would a man who is locked into the 1950s era adapt to the change of the 1960s, with the audience more aware than the protagonist that the days of business-day boozing and ubiquitous smoking won't last forever. Adaptation or obsolescence. Those are the choices.

Rivers seems to be the one who's most aware of the Clippers' predicament and the least bothered by it. He's the one with the best perspective, capable of seeing exactly what's transpiring and candidly describing it. Yet there he was, casually starting off his media session Saturday with an inquiry about the Chicago Bears' draft picks. His shirt bore the logo of the Bel-Air Country Club, and how bad can life be when failure means more time to golf?

There's less pressure on Rivers because he already won a championship in Boston. Sure, that brings added expectations to his job in Los Angeles, but the worst possible label for him when his tenure is done is a guy who won a championship with the Celtics but couldn't with the Clippers. That's not a damning statement.

It's why he could laugh off a bevy of bad-omen stats that were thrown at him, including the fact that NBA teams that win Game 3 of a series that's tied 1-1 go on to win the series about 75 percent of the time.

"If it is a 75, that means we have a 25," Rivers said. "Any chance you have to win, take the chance."

Blake Griffin kept his chin pointing straight ahead and didn't whisper.

"It's not like we're down 3-0," Griffin said. "We're down 2-1 and we've got another game at home. We need to correct our mistakes, but it's nothing to hang our head and be down about. We've got a chance to even it up."

Saturday was a rare day with the Clippers that did not include any talk of the Sterlings. No new recorded conversations from Donald Sterling, no renewed vows by Shelly Sterling to hold onto her share of the franchise. It was a brief respite for the players, whose frustration with the fallout from Donald Sterling's views on African-Americans is matched by their weariness of being asked about it. There is an end game, though. While Sterling insists on one of the recordings that, "You can't force someone to sell property in America," the reality is this isn't America, it's the NBA. It's a group of private members who are empowered to vote out other members. You'll note that Mark Cuban's voice of protest wasn't over whether the NBA had the right to oust Sterling, it was over whether it would be tempted or even forced to use that right with increased frequency.

There will be more stories; Shelly Sterling has a media tour planned for next week. There also will be relief. Richard Parsons has been named the interim CEO, meaning Rivers no longer occupies the top spot on the staff directory and won't be drawn into details such as approving the design of the T-shirts distributed to fans before Game 7 of the first round. Yes, the head coach had wedding planner-type tasks to do in the midst of preparing for a series-deciding game.

It's a small example of the unusual noise swirling around the Clippers in these playoffs. It's also not an acceptable excuse for failure. Rivers' counterpart in that Game 7 was Mark Jackson, who was well aware that the end of his coaching stint with the Warriors loomed at the end of their playoff run. That's a distraction, too.

The Clippers' current opponent had to deal with a headline proclaiming their star "Mr. Unreliable" on the day they faced elimination in Round 1. They handled it, along with handling the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Thunder have a mountain of evidence. The Clippers still need to construct their case. We'll have the verdict by next week.