Column

As Clippers fail in Game 7, it is clear that it's time for a big change

Enough is enough. Break them up.

This isn’t about one game, it’s about six years. Break them up.

The Clippers’ Game 7 disintegration in front of the Utah Jazz on Sunday wasn’t an upset, it was a rerun. Break them up.

The end of this first-round series should also be the end of an era. Los Angeles has seen enough. This core group of Clippers has failed enough. The fact that three of their four stars are free to leave the team this summer should be reason enough.

Break them up.

Two seasons after rolling over in Game 7 in the second round in Houston, the Clippers were bounced by the Jazz in a 104-91 loss that was stunningly lopsided and sickeningly familiar.

Two seasons ago, in their most important game of the season, they didn’t lead once. On Sunday in a Staples Center eventually filled with boos, they led exactly twice, never by more than one point, and never after the game’s first four minutes.

It was awful. It was unsightly. It was six years of playoff failure whittled down to 2 1/2 hours of abject frustration.

In the game’s first timeout, somebody dusted off Clipper Darrell to lead a cheer. That didn’t work. Late in the first quarter, Jay Z and Beyoncé showed up to sit courtside. That didn’t work. By the third quarter, the game was being stopped to clean up some sort of spill directly in front of Jay Z and Beyoncé, and all was lost.

It was only the third win by a road team in the NBA’s last 15 Game 7s. It was the Jazz’ first playoff series win in seven years. And oh, yeah, it came less than 48 hours after the Clippers’ most inspirational win of the season to stay alive in Utah.

It was same old, same old.

“Once again … we’re done,” said Chris Paul, who was finally crushed by the weight of carrying his teammates and missed 13 of 19 shots.

At least Paul showed up. J.J. Redick did not, unbelievably making only one basket. Then there was DeAndre Jordan, who scored 24 points with several backboard-rattling dunks, but gave much of that back defensively, the Clippers being outscored by 10 points in the paint and by 16 points when Jordan was on the court.

Doc Rivers had a lousy coaching game, not allowing Redick a chance to find himself while playing the ancient Paul Pierce for 21 mostly unproductive minutes. Jamal Crawford was hot late with 14 points in the fourth quarter, but scored only six points before that as the Clippers slowly sank out of sight.

“Basketball is a game of rhythm, and I guess we had trouble finding our rhythm,” said Crawford of the most talented group of out-of-step players in the league.

Afterward, the Clippers repeatedly talked about the difficulties of winning a series without their second-best player, the injured Blake Griffin. Except the Jazz survived the series without the full services of their second-best player, as Rudy Gobert was either out or nonexistent in two Jazz wins at Staples Center.

“Like I tell every guy, we’ve just got to keep pounding away,” said the Jazz’ George Hill. “Anything is possible.”

You know what’s possible for the Clippers now, right? Break them up.

This summer, Paul and Griffin can opt out of their contracts while Redick will become a free agent. It is the Clippers’ chance to change the culture of a team that, despite being one of the league’s top regular-season teams in the past six seasons, has yet to make it as far as the Western Conference finals despite having three of the best 25 players on the planet.

Swept by San Antonio. Crumbled against Memphis. Stumbled against Oklahoma City. Collapsed against Houston. Injured against Portland. Dissolved against Utah.

Seen enough? The Clippers need to understand that their fans are likely no longer star-struck by their Big Three, but sick and tired of watching them flop.

Steve Ballmer, the Clippers owner who spent Sunday’s game charmingly wearing a souvenir white T-shirt over his usual plaid dress shirt, needs to understand this more than anybody.

There are rumblings that because Ballmer has been here only three seasons, and because two of those playoff chases were cut short by injuries, he hasn’t seen enough to give up on this group. There is a feeling that the organization will let Redick walk while paying insane amounts of money to keep Paul and Griffin together.

This is, by the literal definition, insanity.

I helpfully expressed this viewpoint to Ballmer on Sunday as I walked with him in the Staples Center tunnel toward his car. I asked him to break them up. I almost begged him to break them up.

As always, Ballmer was unfailingly polite. And, as always, he respectfully declined comment.

The only Clipper whose job should be safe is Paul. But even though he can make millions more staying here, who knows whether he is also sick of the losing and wants to go somewhere where he can have a legitimate chance at a title?

If the Clippers are lucky enough to retain Paul, and insist on re-signing Griffin, then they need to trade Jordan for a couple of wing players to create more speed and space.

If they are set on keeping their Big Three together, this is a Big Mistake, but one that can be ameliorated if they can acquire a scorer like the New York KnicksCarmelo Anthony and, please, stop with the hate mail. Yes, he’s an underachiever and malcontent, but he would be only the Clippers’ fourth-best player, and serve as only their third-best scoring option.

Not incidentally, forget quickly rebuilding the team with draft picks. The Clippers don’t have any this summer after losing them in trades by Rivers, who has struggled as the top basketball executive.

“Things are going to change, but we don’t know what’s going to change,” admitted Rivers in an interview a couple of days ago. “Things are going to change, but it doesn’t mean the key guys aren’t going to be here.”

The Clippers are probably afraid that without those three key players, they won’t win as much, and their sellout crowds will cease. But with change, there will be fresh hope. With implosion, there will be new interest. And really, how much worse can it be?

Break them up.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

Get more of Bill Plaschke's work and follow him on Twitter @BillPlaschke

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