Into 31 years of their sordid Los Angeles history, the Clippers crumbled.
Into 45 years of their awful franchise history, the Clippers collapsed.
Into the worst fears of thousands of Staples Center fans who howled for three quarters, yet wound up stunned and silent, the Clippers cracked.
Attempting to advance to the conference finals for the first time Thursday night, the Clippers added just another sorry chapter to their horrific saga by blowing a 19-point lead in the final 15 minutes in a 119-107 loss to the Houston Rockets.
One moment, the Clippers were winning the semifinal series four games to two and moving to within four wins of a spot in the NBA Finals. The next moment, they were hesitating and gasping and falling backward into paralyzing reluctance and tentativeness.
“When things got tight, I don't want to say it was pressure, but …” said Jamal Crawford.
They were outscored 40-15 in the fourth quarter, and that is not a misprint. They were outscored 49-18 from the 2:35 left mark of the third quarter until the end of the game, that is also not a misprint.
And, oh yeah, the Rockets played the entire fourth quarter with their best player, James Harden, on the bench, beating the Clippers up and down with Josh Smith and Corey Brewer, which might be the most surreal note of all.
“They trusted each other and they played very freely and we didn't,” said Blake Griffin. “We kind of … you could tell we kind of got stunned and we didn't respond well.”
Stunned? That's an emotion that certainly applied to anyone who was watching. One moment, they were the reborn Clippers of a fierce Chris Paul and a flying Griffin. The next minute, they were the same old Clippers of Michael Olowokandi and Benoit Benjamin.
DeAndre Jordan was missing a dunk, Griffin was blowing layups, and Matt Barnes was throwing up an airball, and the Clippers simply stopped guarding anybody.
Griffin missed all five of his fourth-quarter shots. Crawford missed all four of his fourth-quarter shots. Paul made just two of seven fourth-quarter shots.
“They want it so bad, sometimes when you want stuff so bad, you can't get it because you're in your own way,” said Clippers Coach Doc Rivers. “They wanted it so much that we couldn't think straight.”
One minute, the fans were standing, howling, jeering, celebrating and even coronating. The next moment, they were standing with mouth agape and hands on their heads. In the end, many walked away early, throwing their hands up in disgust, one gentlemen pointing directly at me.
“Hey, Plaschke, don't write about this game,” he shouted. “Seriously, just don't write about it!”
The fans want it to go away, but this one will live forever, and now, after blowing a second consecutive chance to close this series, the series is closing in on the Clippers who are headed to Houston on Sunday for a Game 7 that could be best described as Seventh Hell.
Of 119 Game 7s in NBA history, the visiting team has won just 24 times. Suddenly, it seems like Rockets could become only the ninth team out of 228 in NBA history to overcome a three-games-to-one deficit to win a series.
The bottom began dropping out Thursday in the final seven minutes, after the Rockets had closed the gap to six. Paul scored on a layup through traffic, and everyone sighed, but that was the beginning of the end.
Smith hit a three-pointer. Paul missed an off-balance rushed shot. Jordan missed a dunk. Smith hit an open layup.
With 4:44 left, the Clippers still led 102-100, but then Griffin missed a layup, and Corey Brewer scored on a fast break layup to tie the score.
Moments later, Griffin missed another layup, and, on the other end, Brewer sunk a three-pointer with J.J. Redick showing up late on defense, giving Rockets a three-point lead they never lost.
“They played free, they played desperate,” said Crawford. “Getting the big lead, we stalled a little bit.”
In the final minutes, to add insult to embarrassment, Jason Terry made a jumper and screamed at the crowd. Later, Smith hit a three-pointer and stuck out his tongue at the crowd.
“They outplayed us in every sense of the word down the stretch,” said Griffin. “We took our foot off the gas, stopped defending, a lot of things.”
Actually, everyone should have known this would happen. An omen appeared with 2:18 left in the first quarter, with the Clippers rolling and Staples Center rocking.
Just when it appeared that this was the night the Clippers would shine the brightest, the darkest parts of their history walked in the building.
Amid much fussing, Shelly Sterling took her seat at midcourt.
For now, the Clipper Curse lives.
Follow Bill Plaschke on Twitter: @billplaschke