Warriors

Rivers becomes latest victim of chasing Warriors' greatness

Warriors

The Warriors haven't played a competitive game for six months. They haven't been legitimate title contenders for over a year.

And yet, the shadow their greatness cast over the league claimed its second coaching victim Monday, when Doc Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers mutually agreed to part ways. Rivers leaves as the franchise's all-time leader in games coached, wins, win percentage, playoff games and playoff wins.

Those are stellar numbers. But none of that was enough.

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Of course, the lasting image of Rivers as Clippers head coach will be the embarrassing three-games-to-one collapse against the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semifinals. But the split is about much more than the Clippers' inability to stop Jamal Murray or Rivers' insistence on playing Montrezl Harrell over Ivica Zubac even when the numbers suggested otherwise.

No, Rivers' break with the Clippers is very much like Mike D'Antoni's exodus from the Houston Rockets. While the Warriors weren't there to strike the killing blow, make no mistake, this tally goes on their ledger.

The Warriors spent the last five years as NBA royalty, winning at a clip few have enjoyed in history. Rivers and the Clippers entered the season with dreams of starting their own historic run with the Warriors' dynasty appearing to fade.

Setting your sights at the sun is a noble pursuit, but a failed attempt often ends in with the seeker plummeting from the sky.

 

Rivers arrived in Los Angeles in 2013 in the hope that he would, along with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, help the Clippers take the Western Conference mantle from an aging San Antonio Spurs team.

The 2015 playoffs were supposed to be the Clippers' moment to grab the conference by the horns. Instead, they floundered, blowing a three-games-to-one lead to the Houston Rockets before watching the Warriors play in the first of five straight NBA Finals.

The wide-open Western Conference was no more. After the 2015-16 season, in which the Warriors won an NBA record 73 games, the Clippers chose to rebuild, trading Paul to the Rockets and conceding the West to Steph Curry and the Warriors for the time being.

Last year's first-round series between a pesky Clippers squad and the dynamic Warriors showed Rivers at his best. Armed with a team of role players, the Clippers pushed the Warriors to six games before eventually being outgunned by the greatest collection of talent in NBA history.

And that was the Warriors' swan song. You know the mass exodus that occurred after their 2019 NBA Finals loss to the Toronto Raptors. With the Warriors recalibrating, Rivers convinced Kawhi Leonard to leave the Raptors to join the Clippers and help lead LA's "other team" to the top of a once-again wide-open Western Conference.

Surely the team that pushed the vaunted Warriors to six games and added Leonard and Paul George would be the conference and title favorites. With Kevin Durant in Brooklyn and the Warriors taking a year to sort out the next phase of their run, the Clippers were the popular choice to fill the Warriors' place atop the NBA.

The Clippers felt as if they were the "next Warriors." A team destined to lord over the league until their nucleus -- Leonard, Rivers and George -- decided it was over. Guard Patrick Beverley famously told Curry that now was "his time" after the Clippers' season-opening shellacking of the Warriors.

But greatness never came for the Clippers. There were flashes undoubtedly. They faced many hurdles including a pandemic pause, no home-court advantage in the Disney bubble and a lack of team chemistry that never formed while they tried to "load manage" their way to the title.

The next Warriors these Clippers were not. They were talented, yes. But they were arrogant, flawed and Rivers never was able to wave his magic wand and get everyone to buy in to sacrifice for the betterment of the team.

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Rivers and the Clippers agreed to part ways due to different approaches to the future of the franchise, The Athletic's Jovan Buha reported Tuesday.

But don't discount the shadow the Warriors cast over the Western Conference. They are the standard most are trying to match. A run of excellence most franchises can only dream of.

 

One the Clippers envisioned when their plan to lure Leonard to LA came to fruition last summer. Dreams of multiple titles and record-breaking seasons were conjured up. Dreams are easy to construct but difficult to achieve.

Failing to meet expectations, those set internally and the bar raised by the Warriors over the past five seasons, had a heavy price.

It wasn't the Clippers' time as Beverley claimed it would be. With the Los Angeles Lakers atop the conference and the Warriors returning to power next season, it might never be.

Chasing the Warriors' greatness extracts a heavy toll. Doc Rivers was just the latest to learn that lesson.