A defining moment for Chris Paul and Clippers arrives Sunday

Game 7 in Houston is freighted with history: Will Clippers finally reach West finals, or revisit legacy of fai

There was no getting around the issue. It nagged Chris Paul all morning after the biggest playoff collapse of his basketball career.

A neighborhood meeting about moving the local bus stop.

"It's life," Paul said Saturday when asked about the process of getting over the Clippers' 19-point disintegration in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals. "You get past this. You've got to move on."

The Clippers can only hope that's the case in Game 7 on Sunday at Toyota Center because their narrative wasn't the only thing that had changed in the wake of back-to-back losses to the Houston Rockets.

So had the genre.

It went from fairy tale to horror show for a franchise that appeared to be on the verge of shedding its inglorious past only to put a fresh spin on a tired phrase: Same old Clippers.

Paul has shifted from virtual breakthrough to borderline breakdown, his never-made-it-past-the-second-round tale dogging him worse than his strained left hamstring.

Forward Blake Griffin has gone from superhero to missing in action, his scoreless fourth quarter in Game 6 at the epicenter of an epic meltdown.

Coach Doc Rivers' skills as his team's de facto general manager have gone from praised to panned, acquisitions Austin Rivers and Spencer Hawes largely disappearing again after a few good games.

Of course, all those Clippers season obituaries being readied could be a bit premature. Their playoff run may not be over even after they crumbled in Game 6 to even the series at three games apiece.

"The good news for us," Doc Rivers said, "is we have a chance to win [Sunday] and that game's forgotten about. We move on."

A win in Game 7 would revive the sunny story lines, sending the Clippers to a conference finals for the first time in their mostly morose 45-year existence.

A loss could prompt more than tears in the Clippers' locker room.

Calls for Rivers to relinquish his role calling the player personnel shots could intensify.

Center DeAndre Jordan could use another second-round exit — it would be his third in the last four years — as an impetus to more seriously consider other teams this summer as he becomes an unrestricted free agent for the first time.

And it just might be time to question whether the Paul-Griffin-Jordan core is capable of winning a championship after what would be four fruitless seasons together.

Sunday will represent their fourth Game 7 as a threesome. They are 3-0 in those situations, winning on the road in Memphis in 2012 and at home against Golden State in 2014 and San Antonio earlier this month.

Not that Paul believes the past has any bearing on the present.

"When they throw the ball up," Paul said, "[Friday] or the day before will have nothing to do with it."

That's a good thing for the Clippers, considering the way Thursday ended. They lost leads of 19 points late in the third quarter and 12 points with 7 1/2 minutes left in the game.

Rivers said his team watched parts of the fourth quarter together and reached two conclusions: The Clippers let up and then became overwhelmed by the gravity of the situation.

"We got the lead and kind of got comfortable and started making plays that you shouldn't make that no way would you make with a one-point lead and then when it got to eight, we got tight," Rivers said. "And then all of a sudden, we couldn't make a shot. We were open, but that pressure of trying to close it out or for whatever reason it happened."

Rivers could make some dubious NBA history Sunday by becoming the first coach to be on the wrong side of two comebacks from 3-1 deficits in a playoff series. His Orlando Magic lost to the Detroit Pistons in the first round in 2003, dropping the final three games.

"We were the eight seed," Rivers said of the Magic, "so completely different."

Some may say a collapse is a collapse, no matter the peripheral details. Many will be watching to see if it happens Sunday with Clippers-Rockets the only game on the NBA slate.

When it's over, the Clippers will board their team bus bound for either a flight to Oakland and the conference finals or an off-season filled with uncertainty.

Paul would prefer the party bus, of course. Especially after all the neighborhood drama he endured earlier this week.

"They're trying to move the bus stop," Paul said. "I don't like that."


Twitter: @latbbolch

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