Clippers power forward Kenyon Martin tries to block a shot by Mavericks… (Larry W. Smith / EPA )
Reporting from Dallas -- It was the end of a six-game trip, and the Clippers were facing defending NBA champion Dallas in a city where they haven't won since April 19, 2006.
And yet after 11 days on the road, after going from Washington to Orlando to Cleveland to Philadelphia to Charlotte and finally to Dallas, after losing Chauncey Billups to a season-ending torn Achilles' tendon in Orlando, the Clippers put themselves in position to win.
They didn't, dropping a 96-92 decision to the Mavericks, but only after Caron Butler missed a potential game-winning three-point shot in the final seconds Monday night at American Airlines Center.
"We had our chance," Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said. "That's what you want on the road."
They went 4-2 on the trip, losing in Cleveland last Wednesday and then in Dallas, where they have dropped 10 in a row.
It looked as if it was over for the Clippers after Dirk Nowitzki (22 points, seven rebounds) made two free throws for a 94-89 Mavericks lead with 21.5 seconds left.
But Chris Paul (16 points, nine assists) made a three-pointer to pull them to within 94-92 with 17.8 seconds left.
The Mavericks inbounded the ball but got trapped, forcing a timeout in the backcourt.
Then Jason Kidd attempted a long lead pass from the backcourt that was deflected by Paul into the hands of Blake Griffin, who passed ahead to Paul.
Paul then found Butler on the right wing. Butler pulled up for his three-point attempt not far from the Mavericks' bench.
Butler played for Dallas last season, when the Mavericks won the NBA title, and they gave him his championship ring Monday during a pregame ceremony.
Now he was trying to beat them.
But Butler missed with 3.9 seconds left, his shot coming up slightly short and hitting the rim before bouncing away, leaving the Clippers down by two points.
"It would have been the dagger that we needed," said Butler, who finished with a season-high 23 points on seven-for-18 shooting from the field, going five for 10 from three-point range. "But it fell a little short."
The Clippers were left lamenting wasted opportunities.
They struggled at the free-throw line, making just 16 of 25 (64%), with Griffin (20 points) the primary culprit, going two for nine.
After he missed four straight free throws in the fourth quarter, the Mavericks intentionally fouled him as he ran down court with 2:15 left and Dallas holding a three-point lead.
Griffin then missed his fifth straight free throw before making the next, pulling the Clippers to within 86-84.
The Clippers also regretted their poor ballhandling, reflected in their 21 turnovers.
Paul was charged with five turnovers; Butler and Griffin each had four.
"I had five turnovers, and I mean bad turnovers too," Paul said. "The first one at the beginning of the game, I looked at my hands, I was like, 'What am I doing?' When you have 21 turnovers, you don't give yourself an opportunity to win."