PLAYA VISTA, Calif. — Emotions were still raw Friday morning as several Clippers players arrived at the team’s training facility for physical exams and final goodbyes.
They agreed it was a surreal feeling. Their season ended the night before. Their sense of purpose had dissolved in a 104-98 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
It was hard to let go.
At breakfast with his wife, guard J.J. Redick said, "I started weeping again. It’s like you wait your whole life to play with a group of guys like that and hope that’s the group you end up winning with. When it doesn’t happen, it’s devastating."
Chances are, it’s going to stay that way. The Clippers, under first-year coach Doc Rivers, believed they were good enough to win the franchise’s first NBA title, not just advance to the Western Conference finals. Falling short was a crushing blow.
"It’s definitely still there," Blake Griffin said. "It’s disappointing obviously, but at the same time I am proud of the things we accomplished and how we handled ourselves. But just like a loss in the regular season or the playoffs, you have to let the sting linger for a while."
No one is certain about the future. Owner Donald Sterling has indicated he will fight to keep his team, and his estranged wife, Shelly Sterling, said she believes she has a right to retain her half ownership.
Rivers did an exceptional job shielding his players from the constant turmoil, but now they’re faced with questions about how they’ll proceed if there are no answers when next season begins.
"I couldn’t give you a real honest answer right now," Jamal Crawford said. "I still can’t believe the season’s over. I’m still dealing with those emotions."
Redick said: "It appears this will be a long process and things will be in flux for a while. I can’t imagine a scenario where we start the season next year where he’s the owner and all is kosher."
Even with all the upheaval, the Clippers remained competitive to the end, beating the Golden State Warriors in seven games and taking double-digit leads in both Games 5 and 6 against the Thunder.
You have to let the sting linger for a while
-- Blake Griffin
In fact, Rivers said the team began to sense things were starting to click. After they were eliminated, he said, "I thought during this series, we started figuring out exactly what Clipper basketball is and will be. I just kept thinking, man, if we can get through a couple of more games, we’re there. You can feel it."
It was a feeling that spread to the players.
"I don’t know if it was late in Game 4 or when it was, but you could tell the way we moved the ball in Game 5 with the exception of (the final four minutes)," Griffin said. "Then the first half last night, we played exactly how we should. We weren’t making everything, but we were playing how we should. It was nice to do that."
Time simply ran out on them. Now the Clippers approach the offseason believing they have the right group of players to go farther.
But that’s all they know.
"We have to focus on some positive things and move on," Griffin said. "I thought we did take a step as a team. In years past, we lost and that was kind of it. But I think we did take a step, and hopefully with this core group of guys we have, we carry that over and start using that."