Thousands of Staples Center fans began the game by wildly waving towels that read, “Relentless.”
Three hours later, the Clippers relentlessly wanted to hide under them.
There was a giant flame that shot out over the basket during pregame warmups, filling the air with smoke and heat.
Three hours later, the building around them had grown dark and cold.
Yeah, it happened again. With the pressure on the precocious Clippers, they wilted again. Needing one big play, they again responded with a botched play, and now they are down to their last chance to make it all better.
In a pivotal playoff game against the NBA's championship measuring stick known as the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday night, the Clippers again crumbled under the weight of every critic's charge and skeptic's claim, falling apart in the fourth quarter of a 111-107 loss in Game 5 of the first round, falling behind three games to two.
The play that everyone will be talking about will be DeAndre Jordan's goal-tending on a potential game-winning runner by Blake Griffin with 4.9 seconds remaining, especially since it was clearly goaltending and Griffin's shot appeared destined to roll through the rim without any help.
But the bigger issue was that, for the second time in five games in this series, the Clippers fell apart in the fourth quarter that began with the game tied at 82.
During the period, Griffin was one for nine shooting with three turnovers, two missed free throws, and a shot blocked and ball stolen with the Clippers trailing by two in the final two minutes.
That was the worst of the performances, but certainly not the only struggles of a team that, even in the end, could have had a chance to tie the score after Danny Green missed a free throw in the final seconds.
But believe it or not, the exhausted Clippers could not get the rebound and lost the game when Kawhi Leonard grabbed the final loose ball.
During the quarter, the Clippers missed all three of their three-point attempts, missed four of seven free throws, committed five turnovers, and afterward could only offer the same old quotes.
“At this point, it ain't about the stats,” said Chris Paul, who vainly tried to do it all during the quarter with nine points. “We have to execute better and play better down the stretch.”
It didn't help that by that fourth quarter, a Clippers bench that helped them win Game 4 had been ineffective or ignored.
While five Spurs reserves played at least 11 minutes, only two Clippers reserves played that much, and Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers combined to make five of 19 shots. Overall, the Spurs bench outscored the Clippers bench, 48-17.
The Clippers have been pushed to within 48 minutes of being eliminated by the defending NBA champions and their five-ring dynasty. They will have to win two games against the Spurs in the next four days to survive. It will not be easy, and will certainly not be pretty.
The first opportunity will come Thursday in San Antonio. If somehow the Clippers win there, then they will have to beat them again in a Game 7 at Staples Center on Saturday night.
Yeah, the winner-take-all game would be played on the same night Floyd Mayweather is fighting Manny Pacquaio. Perfect, huh? Maybe not.
For the second time in five games in this series, the Clippers were punching bags in the final rounds, although this has happened to Spurs opponents before. In fact, this traditionally most pivotal of games has long been the Spurs' most favorite game. The Spurs are now 24-8 in Game 5s since their first championship in 1999. They have won six straight Game 5s over last two seasons and were 15-1 in Game 5s during their five championship years.
“They're not going to panic, they're not going to go away, you're not going to knock them [out], you're going to have to win by a decision,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said of the Spurs. “Our guys have to embrace that.”
Completely unnecessarily but nicely explained, Rivers added, “There are teams where you hit them, they'll go away ... this is not one of them.”
And when you swing and miss against them in the fourth quarter like Tuesday night? You don't have a chance, and now the Clippers have just one more chance.
Afterward, Rivers focused on several controversial calls that left the fans howling. This included a technical foul against Paul that cost them a point in the fourth quarter after he threw the ball hard to an official, and a fourth-quarter sixth foul on J.J. Redick that knocked him out of the game. The Spurs shot only four more free throws than the Clippers in the fourth quarter, but scored five more points that helped cement the margin.
“I thought we had some really tough calls,” said Rivers. “Some brutal calls. You think about playoffs and they are single-possession games. It's not why we lost but those are big plays for us.”
The last two springs, the Clippers and big plays have been strangers. The trend relentlessly continues.
Follow Bill Plaschke on Twitter @billplaschke