In the 16 months since the Clippers last appeared in the postseason, they have transformed from an underdog eighth seed looking to play spoiler to a two-superstar second seed with championship ambitions. The league, facing a pandemic, packed up 22 teams from their home cities and decamped entirely to Disney World near Orlando, Fla.
But not everything feels so new. Instead, the frustrations voiced by Dallas after the Clippers’ 118-110 victory Monday in Game 1 of their first-round series felt like déjà vu.
A year after Golden State coach Steve Kerr bemoaned that star Kevin Durant “took the bait” and was ejected after responding emotionally to Clippers guard Patrick Beverley, ejected Dallas center Kristaps Porzingis claimed Monday that he, too, had been the victim of Clippers provocation.
“They got what they were looking for, basically,” Porzingis said.
Porzingis received a technical foul in the first half after punching the air following what he believed was a foul that he didn't deserve. In the third quarter, teammate Luka Doncic and Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr. had a verbal disagreement following contact after the whistle. The 7-foot-3 Porzingis entered the fray and, after using his long arms to briefly push Morris, was whistled for a second technical and ejected.
The second technical “was for being an escalator to the altercation, which was confirmed via replay,” crew chief Kane Fitzgerald told a reporter Monday.
Porzingis said he was “provoked” — and regretted engaging in what he suggested was the Clippers’ plan.
“That’s what they do,” he said. “Not their main guys but some of the other guys, that’s their job. That’s part of their game, and we can’t fall into that. We’ve got to be above that. These are the mistakes you almost have to go through to gain that experience.”
When Rivers coached in Boston, iconic Celtics coach Red Auerbach repeated to Rivers the same line of advice every time they met.
“To get more agitators,” Rivers once recalled. “You can’t have enough of them.”
Tony Allen was one such hard-nosed, annoying defender in Boston. Beverley is another with the Clippers. It has led to postseason run-ins with Russell Westbrook and, last season, Durant. Both Durant and Beverley were ejected in Game 1 of last season’s first round. And in February, in only his second game with the Clippers, Morris went chin-to-chin with Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid while backing a teammate.
Rivers balked Tuesday when asked whether provoking opponents was part of a game plan.
“I think we have some guys who are agitators; I think that's good,” he said. “But I can guarantee you that wasn't on our game plan list. That's just ridiculous. ‘OK, let's get him thrown out.’ I didn’t like [the ejection], actually.”
Rivers believed neither Porzingis nor Clippers forward Paul George deserved first-half technical fouls after complaints to officials.
“I saw him getting into Luka’s face and I didn’t like it,” Porzingis said of his second technical. “That’s why I reacted. That’s a smart thing to do from their part, and I just have to be smarter and control my emotions next time.”
Morris said he didn’t believe Porzingis deserved to be tossed from his postseason debut.
“I think Luka thought that I was being, I guess, extra physical or something, but if you look at the film I actually wasn’t doing anything,” Morris said. “I didn’t think it was enough to get technical fouls. I wish that Porzingis played because it’s playoffs, man. Nobody should get thrown out in playoffs. I know that really hurt their team. Not my fault, but I didn’t think it was that serious.”
Rivers, however, felt the call was justified, saying Porzingis’ actions didn’t match the level of the disagreement.
“Marcus and Doncic really were having a conversation,” Rivers said. “For him to come into that, to me it had to be something else later, earlier, that him and Marcus got into. There was nothing there. There was not enough for him to run in and be the peacemaker. There was no war going on.”
Game 2 of the series is Wednesday.