Instead they fell apart offensively and defensively, falling to the Houston Rockets in Game 5 at Toyota Center, 124-103. The Clippers now have a tenuous 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series, with Game 6 set for Thursday at 7:30 p.m. PDT at Staples Center.
"We played tonight like we had a couple of bullets in the chamber and we can't do that," Blake Griffin said.
The Rockets outscored the Clippers in points in the paint, 64-46, and in fast-break points, 17-3. The Rockets outshot the Clippers from the field, 54.1% to 41.8%, and outrebounded them, 58-39.
"I thought they took us out of all our stuff offensively," Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. "I thought they bumped us, they pushed us. I was disappointed in how we played."
The Rockets were so dominant in the paint because Clippers' center DeAndre Jordan was in foul trouble for much of the game after picking up his third foul with 9 minutes, 14 seconds left in the second quarter. Jordan played only 24 minutes, finishing with 13 points, 11 rebounds and four fouls.
"The reason DeAndre was in foul trouble is because they were in the paint all game," Rivers said. "A lot of that wasn't his fault. He was just trying to cover up for a lot of our mistakes. For me, we did a poor job of protecting DeAndre. He protects us all of the time, we didn't protect him at all. We have to be better."
The Clippers entered Tuesday's game with a 3-1 series lead, having beaten the Rockets in Games 3 and 4 by 25 points and 33 points, respectively. The Clippers are just the ninth team in NBA history to win two straight playoff games by 25 points or more.
Rivers said he could hardly recognize the team that lost to the Rockets by 21 points Tuesday evening.
"I know that's that's not the team that I've become accustomed to watching play," Rivers said. "I didn't think we trusted at all tonight offensively."
The Clippers have to win Game 6 on Thursday, otherwise they will face an elimination Game 7 in Houston on Sunday. Only eight teams in NBA history have recovered from a 3-1 series deficit to advance to the next round, but Griffin doesn't want his team to take any chances come Thursday.
"We need to learn from this game and improve upon it," Griffin said. "We have a chance to take care of business."