Clippers power forward Blake Griffin tries to collect a loose ball before… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
The Clippers' season started with such uncertainty. And then came "The Trade" that brought Chris Paul to Los Angeles.
It was supposed to last longer. How could Paul, Blake Griffin, Chauncey Billups and Mo Williams not take this team to at least the conference finals? But Billups got hurt -- a season-ending Achilles' tendon tear -- and was out for the season. And in the playoffs, Paul and Griffin got some big-time dings that made them less spectacular than usual.
They deserved better but Sunday night at Staples Center, San Antonio started the Clippers' summer vacation earlier than they hoped with a 102-99 victory. The Spurs won the best-of-seven series 4-0. It was their second straight sweep and 18th in a row including the regular season.
It wasn’t as if it wasn’t exciting as Paul -- the guy you want to take the last shot -- struggled on a miss with three seconds left.
There is little doubt the Spurs were the better team. Their experience and depth were more than the Clippers could handle. But that didn’t keep the Clippers from hanging in there.
With five minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Clippers still had a three-point lead. DeAndre Jordan then sent home a slam matched by a couple of Tim Duncan free throws.
The Spurs then went to their strategy of fouling bad free-throw shooter Reggie Evans, who missed the next two attempts.
Danny Green followed that by making a three-pointer with 4:15 left to tie the score.
Paul and Duncan exchanged baskets, followed by a Duncan score that gave the Spurs a two-point lead with less than three minutes to play. But then in an extraordinary play, Paul made a basket that bounced off the top of the backboard and the Clippers led by one after a free throw.
But it didn’t last long as Tony Parker made two straight baskets to give the Spurs a three-point lead with less than two minutes to play.
An offensive foul on Green with 1:12 remaining led to Paul hitting two free throws with 52 seconds to play, making it a one-point game. Parker missed a runner with about 32 seconds left and the Clippers had a good chance to win the game. Paul, dribbling into coverage, tried to flip it back out but the Spurs came up with an interception.
Green made one of two free throws with 10.5 seconds left and it all came down to the final shot.
Duncan led the Spurs with 21 points, followed by Parker with 17.
Paul led the Clippers with 23 points while Griffin had 21 and reserve point guard Eric Bledsoe, who scored 11 consecutive points in the fourth quarter, finished with 17.
Clippers 75, Spurs 74 (end of third quarter)
If the Clippers were to get back in the series, the third quarter would be a good place to start. They entered the second half of Game 4 behind by four points and little indication that they could beat the Spurs in one game, nevertheless four more.
Blake Griffin came out as a starter after suffering a gash on his upper lip that required two stitches to close.
The Clippers caught a quick break within the first minute when Randy Foye benefitted from a clear path foul and made one of two free throws, with the Clippers keeping possession. And, Chris Paul came up big with a three-pointer to tie the score.
Tim Duncan came back with a two, which was matched by Griffin. Kawhi Leonard and Paul then traded baskets but Paul was still upset because he thought he was fouled on his three. It resulted in a technical.
The Clippers were holding firm, though, and Griffin’s free throw gave them a two-point lead with less than nine minutes to play in the quarter. Baskets by Caron Butler and a three-pointer by Danny Green made it a one-point game in favor of the Clippers.
But the Clippers' lead lasted until 6:25 left when Duncan hit an uncontested two. But the Clippers weren’t done as Griffin answered with a three-point play (basket plus free throw). And Duncan came back with his own three-point play and the Spurs led by one.
A couple of free throws with less than five minutes to play by Manu Ginobli got the Spurs up by three but a Caron Butler two cut it to one. Duncan then extended the Spurs lead with a two followed by another basket and the Clippers were down by five.
But after a couple misses, Paul came back with a two and Griffin did likewise, making it a one-point deficit for the Clippers. After a rare Duncan miss the Clippers took back the lead with 45 seconds left in the quarter after a Paul basket from in close.
But it was short-lived as Parker scored with 28 seconds remaining, but Eric Bledsoe slammed home a two and the Clippers were actually in the lead after three quarters.
Spurs 51, Clippers 47 (halftime)