SAN ANTONIO — There was only one way Chris Paul and the Clippers were able to reconcile a tough, last-second 104-102 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night at AT&T Center.
“We've got to let it go,” Paul said.
But that was going to be especially difficult for Paul because he was involved in all the crucial plays down the stretch.
Some he made, some he didn't.
Conversely, Tim Duncan, who had a season-high 34 points plus 11 rebounds, seemed to make all the plays when the game hung in the balance.
Duncan made all 10 of his free throws and 12 of 19 field-goal attempts — the biggest of which, a 16-foot jumper while being fouled by Willie Green with 2.2 seconds to play, produced the game-winning three-point play.
Moments later, Paul (14 points, 12 assists) missed a potential tying shot inside over Tony Parker just before time expired.
Paul had also lost the ball with an opportunity to give the Clippers a three-point lead in the final 15 seconds.
So the defeat left the Clippers (49-24) at 1-2 on this four-game trip and dropped them to fourth place in the Western Conference, half a game behind Denver (50-24) and half a game ahead of fifth-seeded Memphis (48-24).
“We've just got to learn from it,” Paul said. “No, it's not easy to let it go, but keep it in the back of our minds. We should have won these games. I take a lot of responsibility for that.
“I thrive for those last minute, last two minutes of games. That one [play] right there is going to hurt me the most because I've got Boris Diaw on me and didn't even get a shot up. Might not make the shot, but I've at least got to get a shot up.”
The game was in Paul's and the Clippers' hands very late.
Parker had committed a big error, fouling Paul before the ball was inbounded with 31 seconds left and the score tied at 101-101.
Paul made the free throw for a 102-101 Clippers lead, and they got the ball back.
Paul then got the switch he wanted when Diaw picked up the Clippers' All-Star guard.
Paul drove down the lane, but Diaw stripped the ball away.
Blake Griffin (18 points) picked up the ball but his over-the-shoulder shot was an air ball, resulting in a 24-second shot clock violation on the Clippers with seven seconds to go.
“The biggest play of the game probably was we were up one and had the ball and I didn't even get a shot up with 10 seconds left,” Paul said. “That's terrible. You can't do that. We're up. I've at least got to get a shot up on the rim. If I make that shot, now it's a three-point game.”
Instead, the Spurs had the ball with seven seconds left, trailing by one point.
That's when Duncan made his game-winning play, faking Green into the air and rattling his shot home from just beyond the free-throw line.
“But we know we can play with them,” Griffin said, “and we know we can beat them.”
After the game, Paul had his computer on his lap and was looking at a replay of Duncan's play.
Paul came to this conclusion about Duncan:
“He traveled,” Paul said. “I can say that, right? He traveled. I just looked at the film. He made an unbelievable shot, though.”
After Paul missed the last shot with 1.2 seconds left, he and Matt Barnes appealed to officials near half court.
Both had to be pulled away. Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro grabbed Paul and directed him away and off the court.
“I don't know what Matt told them,” Paul said. “I told them, ‘Great game.'”