Doc Rivers started his pregame news conference with a big sigh. He said the basketball preparation, the watching of film and X-ing of O’s, has been handled, but he has no idea whether his team will be ready mentally for their first game after Donald Sterling’s racist comments turned this series from one of the more exciting ones of the postseason into a global story that drew comments from President Barack Obama.
“The fact that he was in Malaysia said enough to me that he was speaking of that,” Rivers said. “That was the first question, I think.”
“We’re just going to go play basketball,” he said. “That’s the right thing.”
He seemed almost embarrassed at times, getting defensive when asked how he was confronting this issue (“We’re playing. That’s our message. The one thing I’ve learned is if our message doesn’t vibe with yours, that doesn’t mean yours is right.”) and almost admitting that there’s some hypocrisy in taking a stand on Sterling now, after the instances of housing and employment discrimination that have dotted the Clippers owner’s past.
“It wasn’t (a consideration). I knew the past. Outside of that, I really didn’t know a lot of that, to be honest. Probably should have, I guess,” Rivers said.
This morning might have been an instance when we witnessed the benefits of having a preacher as your team’s head coach. Mark Jackson (who said he wouldn’t consider taking a job with the Clippers if he was unemployed, considering what he knows now) brought a message of strength, while Rivers said “I don’t know” on multiple occasions.
“Please don’t think it’s just the Clippers that are affected by these comments. It’s affected us all,” Jackson said. “We’re offended.”
Like Rivers, Jackson never considered boycotting this game (then again, why should the Warriors boycott — their ownership group did nothing wrong).
“No. You stand up here and you answer questions as an African-American man, and you sound intelligent,” Jackson said. “By handling yourself with dignity and class, that’s how you respond.”
Rivers spoke less about Sterling — who he hasn’t spoken with since TMZ released the first recording — and more about the challenges faced by his players, and by extension himself. He didn’t sound confident about his squad’s ability to block the story out, and didn’t have a concrete answer when asked about his team’s “psyche” in the hours before Game 4.
“I really have no idea. Just being honest, I don’t know. They’ve been pulled in a million directions for the last 24 hours. That’s a fact,” he said.
“I don’t know how this game is going to play out. We could come out and be great. We could come out and start out great and run out of gas emotionally. The latter is my biggest fear, that emotionally we can get through the beginning of the game, but do we have enough in the tank? I don’t know. I haven’t been in this situation.
“This is so individual that there will be certain players that will be great, there will be certain players that have been thinking about this all night and they can’t function. That’s what I expect. My job will be to figure out who’s functioning and who’s not.”
At 12:30 pm, the teams will get introduced and hop around nervously. The crowd will scream, cheer and boo, and larger-than-average media contingent will look for story lines. If this morning was any indication, on-court strategy might take a backseat to mental fortitude today. And if each team follows their coach’s lead, the Warriors should be the more energetic and focused team today.