ORLANDO, Fla. - Doc Rivers left the NBA bubble with the kind of limp that's a receipt for nearly 26,000 minutes of NBA basketball played on his legs. A 3-1 playoff series lead turned into a punchline for the second time in five years, and disbelief filled his lungs.
He marveled at Denver's togetherness, and regretted his team didn't have it.
"They kept playing. They never stopped. They just kept playing," he said. "And when things got bad for us, we stopped trusting. Man ... I urged them - keep trusting. And in the heat of the moment, everyone wanted to make the play instead of trusting each other."
The Clippers' 104-89 loss to Denver Tuesday night means the organization will have to soak in the disappointment of squandering 47 points worth of leads in its last three games. It's a pain that won't go away until the Clippers can take the court again, and who knows when that'll be?
"Maybe March," Kawhi Leonard mused. No date for next season has been finalized.
The sting from these losses will force owner Steve Ballmer, president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank and the rest of the Clippers' front office to consider drastic changes, the kind more difficult to figure out when the impact of the NBA bubble is added to the equation.
And, it'll require the Clippers to take serious stock of their situation and understand the urgency of it all.
"It was obvious pressure to live up to the title expectations," Clippers guard Paul George said. "But as a player, I mean, you want that. Like you want that. Again, it's the first time I've been in that situation where we're expected to win. But you know, it is what it is. It's no cop-out. Fact of the matter is, we didn't live up to that expectation.
"But I think internally, we've always felt, this is not a championship-or-bust year for us."
That might not sit well with the people who traded the Clippers' future for George - with the assurance that Kawhi Leonard would sign - last offseason. It's a deal that cost the Clippers draft picks until 2026 and their best young player, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.