Doc Rivers saw what was going on in Boston, and he didn’t want to be part of a rebuilding project. So after nine years of coaching the Celtics and winning an NBA title in 2008, he knew it was time to move on.
Rivers landed in Los Angeles as coach of the Clippers, who will meet the Denver Nuggets at 7:30 p.m. today at Mandalay Bay Events Center in an NBA preseason game. He wanted the job because he thinks the team can contend for a championship.
“They’re ready to win,” Rivers said. “It’s a group that has had individual success. It’s time for them to have team success.
“There’s a ton of young talent here. Usually, there’s one or two players and you’ve got a lot of older guys. Here, it’s almost the opposite.”
Star point guard Chris Paul is 28. Same for shooting guard Jared Dudley. Point guard Darren Collison is 26. Power forward Blake Griffin is 24. Center DeAndre Jordan is 25. Rookie shooting guard Reggie Bullock is 22. So it’s easy to understand Rivers’ optimism.
The Clippers won 56 games last year, but lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Memphis Grizzlies. And despite allowing just 94.6 points a game, fourth-best in the NBA, the team’s defense was inconsistent, particularly on the perimeter, where opponents shot 37.3 percent from 3-point range.
That’s something Rivers addressed immediately upon taking over for Vinny Del Negro. He is holding everyone accountable on defense. And in their first four preseason games, the Clippers have allowed an average of only 87.5 points.
“They’re working hard at both ends,” said Rivers, 587-473 in 14 seasons as an NBA coach. “But if we’re going to take that next step, we have to be better defensively on a nightly basis. They understand that.”
In Boston, Rivers coached Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to a title. In Los Angeles, he has his own “Big Three” in Paul, Griffin and Jordan. He said the key for the Clippers is Jordan, a 7-foot center who has shown immense ability at times but has been inconsistent.
“He can single-handedly change the game by blocking shots and defending in the post,” Rivers said. “He can score, but it’s his defense that will put him over the top.”
After years of trying to stop Paul, Rivers said he has a simple formula for coaching the perennial All-Star.
“My challenge is to stay out of his way,” Rivers said with a laugh. “He’s got tremendous fire inside him, and Chris is a great competitor. I’m gonna let Chris be Chris and lead this team.”
Rivers said one thing he always will remember from his time in Boston has nothing to do with basketball. The Boston Marathon bombing showed him there are things much more important than winning games.
“I learned a lot from that day,” he said. “It was an impressive display of a city coming together. It also puts everything back in perspective.
“Sports are very important to Boston, but people are what it’s all about. The city could have come off its hinges after what happened, but the people helped hold it together.”
■ NOTES — The game will be shown on FS Prime Ticket (Cable 50). … Tickets range from $15 to $250.
Contact reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.