Reaching the playoffs was almost always a foregone conclusion for Doc Rivers when he coached the Boston Celtics, and that has continued since he left for the Los Angeles Clippers.
Rivers’ successor, Brad Stevens, is trying to make his own postseason plans for the Celtics, who continue their push Sunday against a playoff-bound Clippers squad seeking another easy win to cap a three-game trip.
Rivers had a successful nine-season stint with Boston (32-40), highlighted by his 2008 NBA title and 2010 conference championship among seven playoff appearances. The Clippers, finally proving themselves a legitimate franchise after years of being the league’s laughingstock, have made the playoffs in both seasons under Rivers after clinching a berth with a 119-98 drubbing of Philadelphia on Friday night.
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"There are a few teams in the league who get to the playoffs and consider it a successful year," said Chris Paul, who has averaged 23.3 points and 11.3 assists during Los Angeles’ six-game winning streak. "For us, we’re playing for more than that. That’s just how it is. I’m not trying to be ungrateful, but we’re playing for a bigger purpose."
The Clippers (48-25) are currently fifth in the West, but they lead Northwest-leading Portland for home-court advantage in the first round. DeAndre Jordan needed less than 28 minutes to total 17 points and 20 rebounds versus the 76ers – his league-leading 11th game with at least 20 boards.
In fact, this has been a rather stress-free trip for Los Angeles – no starter logged 30 minutes in either lopsided win over New York and Philadelphia. The team has averaged 110.8 points on 50.8 percent shooting with 28.0 assists during its run of six straight wins.
"I think our guys are really executing and moving the ball well, and that’s good going forward," Rivers told the team’s official website.
The Celtics are in a five-team fight for the final two spots in the East and currently occupy the eighth slot by one-half game over Brooklyn. Stevens’ team grinded out a 96-92 win at New York on Friday night as Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder combined for 35 points off the bench.
"Any win from here on out we need, so we didn’t care if it was pretty or good," said Crowder, who has averaged 14.0 points in the last eight games – nearly double his season mark of 7.4. "We just wanted the win at the end of the day."
Though Thomas is shooting 39.8 percent from the field in 12 games since being acquired from Phoenix, he is proficient at getting to the foul line. Thomas was 8 of 9 on Friday and has made 73 of 86 (84.9 percent) with the Celtics.
Another key for the Celtics could be stopping the Clippers in transition. Boston is third in the league in fast-break points allowed at 11.2 per game, while Los Angeles has averaged 19.7 points on the break – well above its season mark of 14.2 – in its six-game run.
The Celtics are 7-19 when allowing 13 or more fast-break points.
Rivers has won all three games against the Celtics since switching coasts, including a 102-93 victory Jan. 19. Blake Griffin had 22 points and Jordan added 19 and 12 rebounds as Los Angeles never trailed.