The mix of beige and off white dominating DeAndre Jordan’s post-game wardrobe was appropriate. All the color, after all, had drained from the Los Angeles Clippers following a critical, emotionally brutal 111-107 loss to the San Antonio Spurs Tuesday night at Staples Center, giving the Spurs a 3-2 lead in this titanic opening round matchup.
At this point, you sympathize with Clippers fans who must feel like they’re being trolled.
San Antonio isn’t the dominating force of last season, but even beat up and diminished to whatever degree, the team is still giving nothing away. As is their custom, the Spurs set a bar and demand that opponents jump over it. The Clippers, as is theirs, haven’t figure out how.
But even for a franchise steeped in disappointment, done in during a string of recent playoff failures by combinations of critical turnovers, untimely injuries, uncharacteristic performances and a racist owner with questionable judgement in women, this one left a bruise.
With 10 seconds to play down by one, Jamal Crawford floated a nice inbound pass to Blake Griffin, who drove the lane and then tried to float a ball over Tim Duncan’s outstretched arm. The ball bounced off the right side of the rim, towards the left. Jordan, crashing for the offensive board, successfully tipped the ball in. Except it hadn’t yet left the cylinder.
As ESPN’s J.A. Adande noted, the Clippers lost on a ball that went through the basket.
Jordan put the blame on himself.
“It was a dumb ass play. We did a good job fighting to put us in a situation to go up one. You can’t blame anybody for that but me. I tipped the ball. I hit it,” he said. “I was trying to make a play on the ball, but it ended up being a dumb play.”
He was being overly self-critical. Desperately needing a bucket with only a handful of seconds left, the restraint required for Jordan keep a hand off the ball would have been suffocating. It was a split-second of instinct and aggression backfiring horribly in a situation most NBA bigs hope never to find themselves.
He also pointed to officiating, launching, unprompted, into a detailed criticism which left him $25,000 lighter in the wallet.
“I don’t complain much,” he began, much to the amusement of anyone watching even 30 seconds of Clippers basketball this season. “I through we got some really tough calls tonight. Some brutal calls. The travel on Blake, the (first half) goaltend on Matt (Barnes), which wasn’t a goaltend. You think about the playoffs, and they’re single-possession games. Those possessions, those were crucial… It’s not why they lost, but those were big plays for us.”
He didn’t like a technical foul called on Paul, either. “I still don’t have the explanation for that,” he said.
And even after trying to bend the conversation back to mistakes and shortcomings of his team’s performance, Rivers still bent things back towards the referees.
“I’ve got a team that played their heart out, and they’re frustrated a little bit. They’re frustrated at themselves because at the end of the day, it’s always our fault. But they’re frustrated at the other stuff, too, and in a game like that with that much magnitude, there should be no frustration that way at all,” he said.
In fairness to Doc, there were some tough calls in important moments (though the call on Jordan wasn’t one). But it’s easy to wonder if a season’s worth of grousing at referees has eaten away at ears that might have been more sympathetic were the Clippers better on-court NBA citizens.
It’s cliche to chalk results in the NBA postseason to “want” and “hunger.” Tuesday, the Clippers left all they had of both on the floor. But at this level, among the elite teams, everyone wants and everyone is hungry.
All the fuel and motivation stored up through seething summers won’t get L.A. past San Antonio. They’ll have to elevate through execution, and as it was in Game 2, when Griffin committed a pair of critical turnovers in the fourth quarter and overtime, or Tuesday night, the Clippers couldn’t close.
Many wonder whether they have the emotional stability to bounce back from this type of disappointment. Perhaps they don’t, but on the other hand the Clippers bounced back well from a similarly agonizing Game 2 loss. Emotion and energy were a big factor in the LAC’s emphatic win in the series opener. A better question is whether Paul and Griffin have the legs to plow through two more games when the only relief available to either is Austin Rivers and Glen Davis.
Heading into Game 1, Doc chafed at constant questioning about his team’s bench depth. Approaching Game 6, it’s clear why everyone was asking. Griffin particularly looked gassed down the stretch Tuesday, missing nine of his last 10 shots after Gregg Popovich put the apparently ageless Tim Duncan on him defensively.
Anyone looking for an applicable postseason cliche, though, doesn’t have to stretch when it comes to the Clippers because they really do have more at stake than any other team in the tournament.
Golden State is the favorite, but their window is wide open. Cleveland, even if they wash out, will still have LeBron, and really, what else matters?
Even if this spring is the end for the Spurs As We Know Them, their collective legacy is set. The Bulls will do what they want with Tom Thibodeau no matter the result, and while it can be argued Kevin Love’s injury gives them a path to a Finals berth that might not be available in years to come, the core of that team going forward, built around Jimmy Butler, seems encouraging.
But the Clippers? There’s a reason everyone called Game 5 the most important in franchise history (besting Sunday’s Game 4, which had eclipsed Friday’s Game 3). There’s a reason they, not the calendar-defying magic of Duncan and his teammates, are the story. Another early exit likely breaks open the cracks in Chris Paul’s reputation. More importantly, if the Clippers are again eliminated early, the CP3/Blake Griffin/DeAndre Jordan core will have failed for the third straight time in the Doc Rivers Era, and the fourth overall.
One more loss, and L.A.’s Big Three may not get a fifth crack.