The Clippers were almost there.
Ahead three games to one over the Houston Rockets in their best-of-seven second-round playoff series, they were one win away from reaching the Western Conference finals for the first time in their 45-year history. They had three chances to get that win. They lost each one.
"Being close ain't good enough," Clippers all-star point guard Chris Paul said Sunday after the Game 7 loss.
After beating the Rockets in Games 3 and 4 by more than 20 points, the Clippers were being favored by some to win the championship. They included Magic Johnson, who tweeted that he thought the Clippers were going to win the title.
Johnson admitted his mistake after the Clippers' 113-100 loss in Game 7, tweeting, "I thought the Spurs taught the Clippers how to win after a tough 7 game series. I was wrong. The Clippers are still the Clippers."
The Clippers allowed the Rockets to become the ninth team in NBA history to recover from a 3-1 deficit in a playoff series. The Rockets will now play the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals, with Game 1 set for Tuesday evening in Oakland.
"You're angry, you're shocked. You're like, 'Did this really happen,'" Clippers guard Jamal Crawford said Sunday. We have to regroup and go from there."
The Clippers had the odds stacked against them in Game 7, considering the home team wins them nearly 80% of the time in that situation during an NBA playoff series. But what happened in Game 6 was quite another story -- they blew a 19-point lead in the third quarter by getting outscored, 40-15, in the fourth quarter.
Coach Doc Rivers said Sunday that he and his team will think about that stunning upset "for a long time."
In Game 7, the Clippers never led and trailed by as many as 20 points. Rivers said that he thought team members wanted to win so badly that they got in their own way.
"I love my team and I love the fact that they wanted to win so bad that I thought, in my opinion, we almost couldn't win," he said.
The Clippers will have a lot to think about during the off-season, and high on that list will be the status of DeAndre Jordan, whose contract expires at the end of this season. As a free agent, the center can likely re-sign with the Clippers for millions of dollars more than anywhere else, but he's been with the team for seven years and they've never gotten past the second round.
Said Jordan of being a Clipper: "This is what I'm used to, but, like I said, I'm not thinking about that right now."
Crawford intimated that he doesn't think the team needs any serious changes to become a championship contender, and that he hopes the core will remain together.
"We were one game away from the Western Conference finals," he said.