LOS ANGELES — Clippers coach Doc Rivers’ eyes welled with tears and he became choked up before his team’s 108-98 loss to Portland in Game 5 of their first-round series.
Rivers responded, “I don’t know,” and his dark eyes filled with tears. He paused and put his hand to his face in an attempt to keep any liquid from spilling out. He told the media that his emotional reaction wasn’t in response to the reporter’s question.
The 54-year-old coach mentioned his late mother, Bettye Rivers, saying, “That would have been the person.”
She died last June in Maywood, Illinois, the Chicago suburb where Rivers grew up and starred at Proviso East High School.
Rivers stared straight ahead in the quiet room before getting up and walking out.
The Clippers and Trail Blazers are tied 2-2. Griffin is out for the season after aggravating a quadriceps injury, while Paul broke his hand in Game 4 on Monday.
Back in 2008, Rivers had guided the Boston Celtics within a game of the NBA championship when he had a similar emotional reaction involving his father. He choked back tears thinking of Grady Rivers, who died during that season. The Celtics clinched their 17th title two days later by beating the Lakers on Father’s Day.
Grady Rivers had juggled his schedule as a Chicago police lieutenant so he could watch his son’s games. He had coached his son’s baseball team and he watched him became a prep star who went on to college success at Marquette before playing in the NBA.
At the time, Doc Rivers said his father was a tough subject for him to discuss. He hadn’t had time to reflect on his father’s death during that season, but he said he thought about him often.
Rivers and his wife, Kris, have two grown sons and a daughter who frequently attend Clippers’ games. Their other son, Austin, plays for the Clippers; he is the first player in NBA history to play for his father.