PHILADELPHIA — Twice in two games over three days, spread across the opening weekend of a two-week trip that probably will define their season, the Clippers had the ball in their hands in the final seconds, a play drawn up and a chance to win or force overtime.
Twice the play broke down.
Twice a shot that wasn't in their plans fell off the rim.
And twice they walked off the court dejected and frustrated after losing to an opponent with a sub-.500 record, this time falling Sunday to the Philadelphia 76ers, 106-104, in front of 15,056 in the Wachovia Center.
"It's disappointing when you're getting into situations where you're coming down to the stretch in these games and guys have played their hearts out," Clipper Coach Mike Dunleavy said, "and then you don't finish it off."
This could have been another confidence-building victory for the Clippers, who wiped out an 18-point third-quarter deficit Thursday night to open the eight-game trip with a 106-103 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies.
They erased a nine-point, third-quarter deficit Sunday and led by five points midway through the fourth quarter despite playing most of the last 18 minutes without Elton Brand, who was on the bench because of foul trouble.
But the 76ers, who got 28 points from Allen Iverson, finished with a 15-8 run. The Clippers, who got 27 points from Bobby Simmons and 21 points in 31 minutes from Brand, turned the ball over four times in 5 1/2 minutes during the 76ers' decisive run, the last time on a shot-clock violation with 37 seconds to play.
They've lost 10 of 12 road games since November, the last two by two points and six of the last seven by four points or fewer.
"It's [giving up] late rebounds, lack of execution that is losing us these tough games," Brand said. "We feel like we should be 3-0 on this trip."
Corliss Williamson's offensive rebound led to the game's final points: two free throws by Iverson with 1:02 remaining, the 74th and 75th free throws in a sloppy game featuring 58 fouls. After that, the Clippers were unable to get a shot off within 24 seconds and Williamson missed a short jumper for the 76ers, Marko Jaric taking the rebound for the Clippers with 10.9 seconds left.
That set up the final possession, the Clippers without Brand, whose disqualifying sixth foul had sent Iverson to the line less than a minute earlier.
For the second game in a row, the ball wound up in the hands of backup point guard Rick Brunson with the clock winding down, this time after backup center Zeljko Rebraca gave it up, much to Dunleavy's disappointment.
"When Z got the ball on the pick and roll," Dunleavy said, "he just needed to shoot it. Don't hesitate. You're open. Just put it down. We'll take our chances with you shooting. He made all the other shots he was taking all night long. That was just too bad.... That was the shot. He just didn't shoot it."
Said Rebraca, who scored 11 points and made the last four of his five shots, all from inside the foul line: "I was too far from the basket."
Brunson, who missed a well-guarded, buzzer-beating baseline attempt in Friday night's 92-90 loss at Milwaukee, fired up a step-back, 21-foot jumper from the right wing Sunday, the ball bouncing off the rim to Iverson as time expired.
"I ain't scared of taking that shot," Brunson said. "I don't care if I miss 10 of them. You've got a 50% chance of hitting it, so I'll take it. I'll be the goat."
Nobody was suggesting Brunson had lost the game.
Said Iverson, who trains with Brunson in the off-season: "My heart was pumping because my man took the shot. I definitely didn't want my man to be able to hit it. He got a good look, but we contested it and fortunately he missed it."
The Clippers trudged off to Boston, where they play Wednesday.