LOS ANGELES — The storm created by the Donald Sterling situation in the first round of the playoffs has largely subsided for now, but for the Clippers, there may be some lingering effects.
There’s no good reason that the first round series against the Warriors needed seven games to be decided, and without the monumental distraction, it’s more than possible that L.A. would have been able to take hold much more expeditiously.
Against the Thunder in round two, the Clippers got off to a strong start, and looked like the team may have put it all behind them, at least long enough to focus on the task at hand. But after two straight losses — one a drubbing, the other more demoralizing considering the closeness of the contest — it’s worth wondering if, as the pressure increases, the team will be able to dig deep enough to overcome any additional adversity.
Doc Rivers was in no-excuse mode before Sunday’s Game 4 at Staples Center, and won’t hear of his team using the Sterling situation as a reason for any of its on-court troubles.
“I’ve heard that talk a lot over the last two days,” Rivers said. “I just don’t want to hear it, I’ll put it that way. Listen, the playoffs are emotional. Obviously we’ve been through some other stuff. We can’t run from that. But you’ve just got to get through it. I don’t believe in that.”
The emotional toll was very real for the players initially, and though it’s waned recently, it was still a lot to deal with in addition to all of the pressure that traditionally comes with a trip to the postseason.
Game 4 is crucial for L.A.’s chances, as a loss would send them back to Oklahoma City needing to win three straight against the Thunder — two of which would be on the road — in order to advance.
We’ll see where the Clippers are at from a mental toughness standpoint soon enough in terms of the way the series ultimately shakes out. But if the Thunder should advance, the strain of dealing with the Sterling distraction will certainly be among the contributing factors — even if Rivers prefers to downplay it at this time.
“We have to be mentally tough,” he said. “I think we’ll be fine. But, you know, there could be a factor there. I don’t think it is.”