Clippers' Big Three looks to take big step forward against San Antonio

The Clippers' Paul, Griffin and Jordan will try again to get past Spurs, who've stymied them in the past

Before they slipped on the first of their two NBA championship rings, Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer stumbled in the playoffs twice against the Boston Celtics.

As a prelude to their six titles, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen fell in the playoffs three consecutive times to the Detroit Pistons.

Playoff heartache has become almost a rite of spring for Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan against the San Antonio Spurs.

The Spurs swept the Clippers trio in the 2012 Western Conference semifinals and handed Paul a stinging defeat in Game 7 of the conference semifinals in 2008, when Paul played for the New Orleans Hornets.

The Clippers will get another chance to nudge aside their nemeses Saturday evening at Staples Center in Game 7 of a first-round series that could represent a coming-of-age moment for Paul, Griffin and Jordan.

The threesome has shown signs that it is on the verge of taking a step forward in its title pursuit by pushing the defending NBA champions to a decisive final game in this series.

Paul has displayed steely calm in the last two games, with 25 assists and one turnover. Griffin made more than half of his shots in Game 6 after going one for nine in the fourth quarter of Game 5. Jordan collected enough dunks and blocks Thursday to offset eight missed free throws in 15 tries.

Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said his stars' growth is largely a function of staying together four seasons, an opinion that may foreshadow a desire to re-sign Jordan this summer when the center becomes an unrestricted free agent for the first time.

"The more you try to keep a core group together," Rivers said Friday during a conference call with reporters, "the more they learn from each other, they know each other and they can trust each other and they tend to have more confidence together compared to when you make so many changes that no one really knows each other.

"This group has been through a lot of stuff, including the playoffs last year, at least some of them have, and I think that's where some of the calm is. The other calm is preparation. I think they feel prepared and they're confident. Confidence breeds calmness."

The Clippers have arguably outplayed the Spurs in five of six games in the series, losing once in a blowout and twice because of haywire finishes — including Griffin's turnover in Game 2 and Jordan's basket interference in Game 5.

Having Game 7 at home sounds great for the Clippers, considering that in NBA history the home team has won nearly 80% of the time in these situations. However, each of these teams already has won twice on its counterpart's home court, including each of the last three games.

"We're excited to go home and play in front of our home crowd," Griffin said late Thursday night. "Our home crowd last year in Game 7 against Golden State was amazing and we'll need that again Saturday night."

The Clippers did not practice or hold a film session Friday, but players did receive treatment at the team's training facility. Reserve forward Glen Davis was listed as questionable for Game 7 after suffering a sprained left ankle in the second half Thursday.

Davis' impact is biggest at Staples Center, where he routinely invigorates the crowd and his teammates with his energetic plays. Should Davis be unavailable, Rivers said, the Clippers could turn to Spencer Hawes or Hedo Turkoglu or go with a smaller lineup as they did late in Game 6.

Rivers said he expected the Spurs to continue intentionally fouling Jordan, even though the strategy has had mixed success in the series. Jordan has made 39.1% of his free throws, nearly matching his 39.7% accuracy in the regular season.

Rivers was referring to shooting when he said "Game 7s are the ultimate make-miss games," but he might as well have been discussing the fortunes of Paul, Griffin and Jordan. They need a win to make something worthwhile out of a season that will otherwise go down as another playoff miss.

Paul turns 30 on Wednesday, which will either be Game 2 of the conference semifinals between the Clippers and Houston Rockets or day four of another early off-season for an eight-time All-Star who has never made it past the second round of the playoffs.

"Doc's been saying since training camp that we have to finish," Paul said Thursday.

Thomas and Laimbeer learned how. So did Jordan and Pippen.

The Clippers will get their chance Saturday, potentially ending the run of the team that has stood in their way for so long.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Twitter: @latbbolch

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