Column

Clippers' breakdowns in this series could lead to a breakup

If this isn’t the end, you can certainly see it from here.

The end of another cursed playoff series. The end of another frazzled season. The end of a maddening six-year run that surely must end.

The Clippers, who face some serious remodeling this summer, began moving out of the house Tuesday night in losing Game 5 of their first-round series with the Utah Jazz at Staples Center.

They packed up with all of 15 points in the third quarter. They loaded up by being outworked on two Jazz offensive rebounds that led to two stomach-turning baskets down the stretch. They began taping it all up by once again being the team with less focus, less discipline, and less trust in each other.

The final score was 96-92, and those aren’t even the most ominous numbers.

The Clippers now trail the series, three games to two, with Game 6 scheduled for Utah’s Vivint Smart Home Arena on Friday. In NBA history, the Game 5 winner of a deadlocked series wins that series 82% of the time. Plus, there’s the absence of Blake Griffin, who will miss the rest of the playoffs with a toe injury.

Two seasons ago, they were in a similiar situation in the first round against the mighty San Antonio Spurs, and somehow survived by winning in San Antonio before triumphing in Game 7 at Staples Center in what was the greatest victory in franchise history.

But that team had a healthy Griffin, and was still filled with the promise that this core group could one day win a championship. That promise has been squelched, a fact that became vibrantly clear Tuesday when Chris Paul trudged off the court with his head down while fans who once jumped and screamed just stood and stared.

“It’s a tough loss, but it’s not like I’m going to go bury my head or anything like that,” coach Doc Rivers said.

Heads might not be buried but they’re definitely being scratched.

“It’s no secret, our backs are against the wall,” Paul said, later adding, “They made the winning plays down the stretch and therefore, we lose.”

Paul and the renewed J.J. Redick combined for 54 points, but there were simply not enough bodies to replace Griffin. The Clippers bench was outscored 36-16. The Clippers were outrebounded 43-34.

None of which compares to a stat they can’t blame on Blake: The Clippers had all of four second-chance points.

“We have to have desperation going up to Utah,” Rivers said.

Fine, but how come it was missing Tuesday?

Even after missing six straight shots in the third quarter, and trailing by 11 early in the fourth, the Clippers had a shot late in the game.

With 3:03 left and the Clippers trailing 80-78, the Jazz’s George Hill missed a three-point shot to set up a Clippers glorious last gasp. Except Hayward somehow tipped the rebound away from the entire Clippers team, the ball landed in the hands of Joe Johnson, and he sank a three-pointer to silence the house.

Then, in the final two minutes, unbelievably, it happened again — with the Jazz leading by three, Hill missed another three, and this time Hayward outmaneuvered Jamal Crawford for the rebound and converted two free throws after being fouled by Paul in the ensuing scrum.

“It’s tough, because we’re small at times,” Rivers said. “We need the offense, but then we give up the offensive rebound. You’re playing a dangerous game out there and sometimes you get burned.”

The Clippers aren’t going to be the same team when they show up again here next October. With both Paul and Griffin having the option of tearing up their contracts and becoming free agents — and with Redick’s contract expiring — they could be headed for a summer implosion.

There are several ways this could go.

Scenario One: The Clippers could shell out millions to bring everybody back, keeping the same team intact despite its history of postseason failure.

This would be stunning. The Clippers have the money, but it’s doubtful they have the patience. After watching their core players endure six years of playoff misery, it’s hard to believe anyone in the front office could stomach watching this same team next season. It’s even harder to believe that Griffin and Paul would want to be part of that.

Scenario Two: All three players leave town, and, unwilling to tolerate a rebuilding job, coach Doc Rivers leaves with them.

This is also a longshot. Under new NBA rules, the Clippers can pay Paul $53 million more than any other team That’s too much money to leave on the table. The odds are that he’s not going anywhere. If Paul doesn’t leave, this means the Clippers could still surround him with new talent and still have a championship opportunity. There’s no way Rivers would walk away from that chance.

Scenario Three: Griffin and Redick leave, and the Clippers reshape the team around Paul, DeAndre Jordan and veteran acquisitions who would fit into their style the way Griffin did not. Perhaps you’ve heard of Carmelo Anthony?

This is the most likely outcome. Redick can make too much money elsewhere, so he’s probably gone. And even though Griffin has developed strong Southern California roots, he might not feel the love from a team that has been repeatedly burned by his chronic injuries. There’s also a feeling Griffin and Paul will never fit together well enough to seriously compete for a championship, while Anthony would be the pure scorer the Clippers need.

All this change could be pretty crazy, right? But not any crazier that what Clippers fans have had to endure during continued postseason failure. They will not only be used it, but probably thankful for it.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

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