In what had to be considered a stunning collapse, these up-and-down Clippers took another step in the wrong direction by blowing an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter that took them down the path of an ignominious 98-97 loss to the going-nowhere Sacramento Kings.
After Chris Paul was unable to deliver his team from their evil ways when he missed a 21-foot jumper with 1.2 seconds left at Staples Center, the crumble had been completed and the Clippers were left trying to explain an inexplicable defeat so late in the season with so much at stake.
“It’s a bad loss. It’s probably the worst one in the regular season in my career, probably,” said Paul, who had 17 points and nine assists. “Yeah, that’s tough. That was a bad one. That’s a bad loss. Yeah.”
The Clippers had defeated Utah on Saturday and were in position to put more pressure on the Jazz if L.A. had not blown Sunday’s seemingly winnable game.
Now the fifth-place Clippers are a game behind the fourth-place Jazz in the Western Conference.
And now that’s two bad losses in three games for the Clippers — a last-second defeat to the 31-41 Dallas Mavericks last Wednesday and the loss to the 28-45 Kings.
“These games should mean so much more to us than to them. Nothing against them. But just being out of the playoff picture… We have something to play for,” Blake Griffin, who had 17 points, said about the loss to the Kings. “And tonight it looked like it was the opposite, the other way around in that last little bit… It’s over now. Can’t do much about it now except try to move on.”
Paul Pierce had given the Clippers a 94-76 lead with 5 minutes 16 seconds left.
But the Clippers didn’t make a field goal the rest of the way. They were outscored, 20-3, over that stretch. They missed their last nine field-goal attempts. They made three of five free throws. Kings rookie Buddy Hield torched the Clippers for 11 of his 15 points during that stretch, including back-to-back three-pointers.
The Clippers also had a 24-second shot-clock violation with 1:11 left while holding a one-point lead.
“I probably should have shot it,” Paul, who had the ball before passing it to Austin Rivers, said. “The guy closed out. I’ve got to know the clock better than that. I put Austin in that situation.”
When Willie Cauley-Stein scored on a putback for a 98-97 Kings lead with 3.2 seconds left, the Clippers called a timeout.
Paul had one last opportunity to save the Clippers from their own disgrace, but he couldn’t deliver.
After missing the shot, Paul dropped to court as the ball bounced away, having to be picked up by his teammates, all of them dejectedly walking back to the locker room with their heads down.
“I caught it and was ready to shoot,” Paul said. “It felt good. I haven’t seen it again. But I’ll take that shot any day of the week.”