THE COACH VS THE PLAYER Why older Clipper fans still appreciate Doc Rivers

THE COACH VS THE PLAYER Why older Clipper fans still appreciate Doc Rivers

For younger Clipper fans, Doc Rivers the coach will always be the “3-1” guy. But older fans remember Doc Rivers as the guy who helped the Clippers end another infamous streak – 16 years without the Playoffs. 

At the dawning of the 1990s, the L.A. Clippers had a lovely nucleus of young, exciting, and athletic players. It consisted of guards Gary Grant and Ron Harper, alongside forwards Danny Manning, Ken Norman, Loy Vaught, and Charles Smith. But riddled by ACL injuries of its potentially leading players Manning and Harper, these Clippers still seemed not mature enough to jump into the playoff picture.

With the sudden departure of L.A. Lakers superstar Magic Johnson just before the 1991-92 NBA season, it seemed that the Clippers’ time might have finally arrived. Harper and Manning were finally healthy, and the rest seemed to be more mature while waiting for them. In the ’91 off-season, the team’s longtime GM Elgin Baylor acquired experienced veterans that previously played their roles on contending teams such as Danny Young, Doc Rivers, Olden Polynice, and James Edwards.

Under the coaching helm of Mike Schuler, these new and improved Clippers soon proved that not only they might be in charge of LA, but they are a force to be reckoned across the NBA. L.A. Clippers’ time had finally arrived when Larry Brown, who coached Manning at Kansas University, got fired in San Antonio on January 22, 1992. Two weeks later, he was running practices in Los Angeles. 

Renowned basketball teacher at any level directed the players explained to them who they are and where they are heading, took them to a 23-12 record for the rest of the regular season, and won the NBA Coach of the Month award for March 1992. As soon as he took over, Brown saw a lot of potential in this team. He cherished the youth and athleticism of this particular team but also respected veteran leadership along the way. 

Rivers opened his lone season with the Clippers as starting point guard in a three-guard rotation, alongside Grant and Harper. Coming back from a mid-season injury, over the last two months of the season, he contributed from the bench, boosting the Clippers performance and energy level with his proficiency and athleticism. Doc appeared in 59 games during the regular season, starting 25 of those, and averaging 10.9 points, 3.9 assists, 2.9 boards, and 1.9 steals. Most interestingly, the Clippers had won 35 of the 59 games in which Rivers appeared in, which makes for an astonishing 59%!

Rivers saved his best for last, playing the best ball of the season in the 1992 Western conference First-round vs. the Utah Jazz. Matched up with the best passer in the game, Jazz point guard John Stockton, Rivers proved his class by averaging 15.2ppg, 4.2apg, 3.8rpg. He did it by shooting 44.6% from the field and 50% from beyond the three-point arc while compiling an unbelievable 7:1 assist-to-turnover ratio!

Doc inspired play proved critical for the rejuvenated Clippers win in series game 4, which tied the series result at two apiece. After hitting two clutch free-throws, Rivers sealed the game by hitting a left-handed transition lay-up. 

“Doc is a veteran ballplayer. That’s the reason we traded for him. To do the things he did today.”

Ron Harper, LA Times

Despite Rivers’ and his teammates’ effort in game four, the Clippers eventually lost the elimination game five in Salt Lake City. The grueling series was completed with a 2-3 outcome in favor of the Midwest division champions Utah Jazz. On September 22, 1992, Rivers was traded to the New York Knicks. 

Basketball Network contributor Murray Crnogaj, the 1980s and 1990s basketball specialist, is the proud co-author of the TOP 100 basketball biography ‘Drazen – The Years of the Dragon.’