The game wasn't over when
Paul lingered for the final, agonizing 18 seconds of his season before confetti and streamers poured into the
Another playoff party went on without the Clippers, who completed their colossal collapse Sunday with a 113-100 loss to the
"We can't look at anybody but ourselves," Clippers forward Blake Griffin said. "It's disappointing."
The Clippers had taken an optimistic approach Sunday, packing enough clothes for the first two games of the conference finals against the
Meanwhile, the Clippers will contemplate the latest and most maddening failure to reach the conference finals in their 45-year existence.
"You never want to equate sports with death," Clippers shooting guard
The Rockets never trailed Sunday in becoming the ninth team in NBA history to rally from a 3-1 deficit to win a series, and the first since the
Matt Barnes stepped out of bounds on the Clippers' first possession of the game and things never got much better. The Rockets' lead grew from nine points in the first quarter to 15 in the second to 17 in the third.
The mental strain of back-to-back losses in close-out games was apparent from the opening tip as the Clippers committed seven turnovers in the first quarter, failing even to execute inbounds passes. They would finish with 18 turnovers — six by Redick, five by Griffin.
"Myself included," said Griffin, who along with Paul and
The Clippers cut their deficit to three points early in the third quarter and to eight points on two occasions in the final minutes. Redick missed a three-point attempt that could have brought the Clippers to within five before the Rockets' Ariza made a three-pointer in the corner with 55 seconds left, holding his follow-through as he turned toward the Clippers' bench.
Redick, Barnes and Jamal Crawford combined to make 10 of 32 shots, including five of 19 three-point attempts. Their inaccuracy was an ongoing theme in a series in which the Clippers made only 32.9% of their three-point shots, down from 37.6% in the regular season.
Harden finished with 31 points and Ariza had 22 for the Rockets, who as the series progressed finally resembled the team that had won 56 games during the regular season.
"They were absolutely relentless for 48 minutes and we were not," Redick said, perhaps unintentionally referencing the mantra of Clippers owner Steve Ballmer.
"I thought they were ready to go home if we supplied the pressure," Rivers said of the Rockets in Game 5, "and we didn't."
Rivers acknowledged that getting some help for stars Paul (26 points, 10 assists), Griffin (27 points, 11 rebounds) and Jordan (16 points, 17 rebounds) was on his off-season to-do list, along with re-signing Jordan.
Paul gets several months to consider finishing one victory short of the conference finals for the second time in his 10-year career.
"So close," Paul said, repeating a question before making a reference to a fictional NASCAR driver. "I don't even know what that means anymore. I don't know. Like Ricky Bobby says, 'If you're not first, you're last.' Getting close ain't good enough."