Inside the dark, daunting art of the NBA's toughest position


ON THE SUNDAY of Thanksgiving weekend, LA Clippers head coach Doc Rivers used his team's halftime locker room meeting for one intended purpose.
"He just challenged me," Clippers rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said.
The Clippers found themselves down 15 points to the Portland Trail Blazers. On the video screen inside the visitors locker room: a single possession that occurred in real time just a few minutes earlier. In the sequence, Blazers guard Damian Lillard stood along the left sideline, guarded by Gilgeous-Alexander.
"Dame just threw him like a piece of trash, and it was obvious," said Clippers assistant Sam Cassell, who works most closely with the rookie on the dark arts of being an NBA point guard. "It was a clip of Dame taking Shai and just tossing him out of the way and coming off the pindown, getting the ball and making the jumper."
"There were no other clips, no defensive schemes," Gilgeous-Alexander said. "Nothing else."
Rivers, an NBA rookie point guard 35 years earlier, had watched Lillard and CJ McCollum manhandle Gilgeous-Alexander all over the court in the first half -- effortlessly running him off screens and carving out space with a bump and a stride, occasionally looking around for help after a blowby. Rivers had enough for an entire sizzle reel, but Gilgeous-Alexander didn't need to watch a full-length feature so much as hear a message.
"He needed to know you have to stand up for yourself," Rivers says. "'You're looking for help?! Help your f---ing self! That's what we need you do -- help your f---ing self.' I said it 50 times. 'Help yourself! Don't look at me! Go stand up for yourself.'"
And so he did. Lillard and McCollum weren't fully taken out of their respective rhythms, but there was Gilgeous-Alexander in the third quarter, chest-to-chest with McCollum on a cut, intercepting the ball when it was lobbed McCollum's way. The Clippers erased the double-digit deficit and escaped Portland with a win.
After the game, Gilgeous-Alexander considered Rivers' riot act at halftime and put a new item on his professional to-do list.