Doc Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers choked last night, losing to the Denver Nuggets, 104-89, to become the 13th team to lose a 3-1 lead in NBA history. This meltdown meant the third time Rivers lose such an advantage in his coaching career. The 58-year-old failed to close games and the series when his team had double-digit leads, which took them to this point.
While the Denver Nuggets became the first team in history to overcome a 3-1 deficit twice in the same season, Rivers made history, too, but for the wrong reasons. The former point guard couldn’t get the job done and now his record with 3-1 leads is bad.
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To make things worse, Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer broke down the six times that Rivers blew a series lead, with three 3-1 and three 3-2 leads blown by the veteran head coach.
But now Rivers has been the head coach of three teams that have blown a 3-1 lead. Yes, you read that right: three blown 3-1 leads. There have been only 13 of those in NBA history. He’s also coached three teams that have blown 3-2 leads. The losses are as follows:
2003 Round 1, Magic blow a 3-1 lead to Pistons
2009 Round 2, Celtics blow a 3-2 lead to Magic
2010 NBA Finals, Celtics blow a 3-2 lead to Lakers
2012 East finals, Celtics blow a 3-2 lead to Heat
2015 Round 2, Clippers blow a 3-1 lead to Rockets
2020 Round 2, Clippers blow a 3-1 lead to Nuggets
The NBA is obviously a player’s league, and winning an NBA Finals requires big-time performances from stars, but Doc has had the stars. This Clippers team had Kawhi and George. Past Clippers teams had Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Those three Celtics teams had Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen. The Magic had Tracy McGrady.
Blowing leads is a trend for Rivers, and that’s often due to a lack of adjustments. Why wouldn’t Williams’s minutes dwindle when he couldn’t stop anyone? How long are you going to stick with Harrell when he looks lost in the pick-and-roll? Why continue to double Nikola Jokic as the Nuggets pick them apart time and time again? He could’ve put Kawhi on Jokic sooner. He could’ve tried Green or Morris at center with perimeter-oriented lineups and played small ball, just like we’ve seen virtually every other team in the semifinals do at some point. He could’ve made a tough call. But Doc’s inaction led to a blown series lead. For the sixth time.
Last night’s game was probably the last game of Rivers as the Clippers head coach. The team choked, he couldn’t make the right adjustments. The series wasn’t lost in Game 7 when Kawhi Leonard and Paul George couldn’t bring their best game. The series was lost in Games 5 and 6 when they had a comfortable lead over the Nuggets and couldn’t seal the deal.
This will always hunt Rivers since the Clippers had the title of championship contenders for this season, but the Nuggets had different plans for the Californians.