PLAYA VISTA, Calif. — A sense of urgency? Absolutely, the Clippers have it.
But Sunday’s Game 4 against the Oklahoma City Thunder is going to go far beyond the Clippers playing with the knowledge their season could end in a few of days.
They understand that much.
"We have to play harder, better, faster, smarter," coach Doc Rivers said Saturday.
The Clippers won the best-of-seven series opener but have been outplayed in games 2 and 3, putting them in the position of winning Sunday afternoon at Staples Center or returning to Oklahoma City on the brink of elimination.
That’s where the urgency comes in.
"We’ve just got to play and not necessarily worry about being desperate," Chris Paul said. "But we’ve definitely got to play with a sense of urgency, because even though we were up 1-0, now down 2-1, we understand it’s not over. It’s not time to hang our heads. We just need to get Game 4."
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That won’t be easy. The third-seeded Thunder is averaging 112 points in the series and has shot at least 50 percent in each of the past two games. Its primary scorers, league MVP Kevin Durant and guard Russell Westbrook, combined for 59 points in Friday night’s 118-112 win after totaling 63 points in Game 2.
The Clippers have been formidable on offense but generally shaky on defense.
"With the exception of the first game, I think the last two games we haven’t been very good," Blake Griffin said. "They kind of got everything they wanted the last two games. They got to the rim, they got easy buckets, they got threes, they got everything. We’ve got to be better."
How so? Rivers wasn’t about to give away his game plan, but he maintains there are adjustments to be made that will limit the damage by Durant and Westbrook but also make sure players like Serge Ibaka and Caron Butler don’t hurt them. Ibaka was 9 of 10 from the field Friday, and Butler sank three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.
Durant and Westbrook are going to score their points, but the Clippers have to make them work for their shots.
"We’ve got to make their points harder," Rivers said. "Durant is too efficient, and so is Westbrook right now. That’s one of the things we said. They’re going to score, but they can’t be efficient scorers, and right now they’re way too efficient in the way they’re scoring.
"Then other guys are scoring, too. So if we’re going to give Westbrook and Durant baskets, we can’t then give Caron Butler wide-open threes. Serge Ibaka has yet to put the ball on the floor. I’d like to see him dribble the ball one time. That would be very nice."
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Paul said: "When you have two guys as dynamic as Russ and K.D., you’ve got to try to limit as many easy baskets as possible. You know they’re going to get to the free-throw line. They’re going to make tough shots, so you’ve got to limit the easy ones."
With all of that, the Clippers still can’t lose sight of their situation. A franchise that has never advanced to the Western Conference finals is three wins away from getting there — or two losses from falling short.
So it comes back to playing with urgency. Lots of it.
"You should have urgency every game," Rivers said. "If you panic, you lose. It’s a simple line to me.
"Urgency is a good feeling. It’s what you should play with. The term is I use is ‘getting your hands dirty.’ You’ve got to be willing and wanting to do that. Anything else is not good."