LOS ANGELES — “I’ve never been more proud of a group of guys in the 20 years that I’ve coached,” Doc Rivers said after his Clippers were eliminated by the Warriors Friday night. “They were just really fun. As I’ve said before, I’ve never had a group where you wanted to, in the morning, you raced to the car, you raced to practice just because you love being around them. So for me, it was just a pleasure to coach them.”
That echoed what Rivers has said all season — this was his favorite team to coach. The energy of Patrick Beverley and Montrezl Harrell, the fluid scoring of Lou Williams, the energy of rookies Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Landry Shamet, the sharpshooting of a healthy Danilo Gallinari. Rivers loved it all, he loved how hard this team played, and was not shy to say so all season.
Did he really like these Clippers more than his 2008 title team in Boston? Really?
Rivers answered that by paying these Clippers his highest compliment yet, while explaining why basketball fans everywhere (including in Laker-dominated Los Angeles) were drawn to this team.
“This was the 2008 Celtics without Garnett, Ray Allen, Rondo, and Paul,” Rivers said of his Celtics’ stars. “It really was, like, same heart, played every night hard. And that’s why they connected.
“I think you could take this team and put in every NBA city and when they leave, every NBA city would love this team. Because the people who come to games go to work all day. And they love to see players who play like they work. And I thought what the city saw in this team, what I saw in this team was a hard-hat team that came to work every day. And it doesn’t matter if you’re blue-collar or white-collar, people appreciate workers.
“And I thought they looked at this team and said I like this team. Even people who cheered for the other team in the city — and that’s what they should do — even they saw this team and said that.
“It’s not a credit to me; it’s a credit to them. Like they showed up and decided to act that way. And I think fans really appreciated it. I know I did.”
The Clippers became the League Pass favorite of a lot of NBA fans this season because of their style of play. However, the playoffs showed how this team is a superstar away still from competing with the elite — they don’t have their Kevin Garnett. Yet. Wait until this summer is over, and then we will see.