Austin Rivers bent over, inconsolable, after his heave from just inside half court fell well short.
DeAndre Jordan walked over to try anyway, patting his teammate tenderly and lingering for a round of hugs before departing the court. A season built on his teammates’ converging at his home last summer was reduced to a solitary walk into the off-season.
The Clippers were beat up, bandaged, swollen and ultimately defeated, a 106-103 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 6 of their first-round playoff series on Friday night at the Moda Center sending them home with another unhappy ending.
They were right there, even without injured stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. They had the ball with 14 seconds left, facing a two-point deficit. Clippers guard Jamal Crawford, who had already scored a career playoff-high 32 points, drove toward the basket.
Plumlee missed the first free throw and made the second, allowing the Clippers to inbound the ball and set up some semblance of a final shot. But Rivers’ attempt wasn’t close, cinching a result that had seemed inevitable since Paul and Griffin went down in the second half of Game 4.
“That team had more heart than any team I’ve ever seen,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “It was amazing to coach them.”
The Trail Blazers advanced to play the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference semifinals after prevailing, four games to two. The Clippers returned to Los Angeles to face another summer of uncertainty.
Rivers gutted out 21 points, eight assists and six rebounds after requiring 11 stitches for two cuts near his left eye.
“I have never cussed in a press conference, but he played his [rear end] off tonight,” Crawford said after what could have been his final game as a Clipper. “You look at his face, it looked like he was in a boxing match.”
The Clippers nearly lost Jordan in the final minutes when he stepped on Plumlee’s foot, turned his ankle and fell to the ground. Jordan banged the floor with one hand and bit the other in pain. He would return to the game and finished with 20 rebounds and 15 points.
Damian Lillard had 28 points for the Trail Blazers, who set a playoff franchise record with 14 three-pointers and improved to 10-0 in potential closeout games in best-of-seven series at home.
Portland had what looked like a stranglehold on the game and the series when Lillard drove into the paint and passed to C.J. McCollum for a corner three-pointer that gave the Trail Blazers a 101-95 lead with 2:16 left.
It wasn’t over. The Clippers ripped off an 8-2 run to tie the score with 32 seconds left on Crawford’s free throws, a prelude to the first dramatic ending in the series after the Clippers’ Jeff Green fouled Plumlee fighting for a rebound and Plumlee made two free throws with 14 seconds left.
The Clippers’ season ended after four consecutive losses, but it had felt somewhat voodooed since Griffin punched assistant equipment manager Matias Testi in January over teasing that went too far.
Already sidelined at the time by a partially torn left quadriceps tendon, Griffin missed 45 games because of the quad, a broken right hand sustained in the scuffle and a four-game suspension for throwing the punches.
Griffin returned early this month but recaptured his All-Star form only in pockets before aggravating his quadriceps in Game 4 and being lost for the rest of the playoffs. That was the same game in which Paul broke a finger on his right hand, sidelining him for the balance of the series against the Trail Blazers.
“We’ve just been a little unlucky this season,” Jordan said at the morning shoot-around in what might be the understatement of the year.
Clippers guard Jamal Crawford drives to the basket for a layup over Trail Blazers center Mason Plumlee during the second half of Game 6.(Craig Mitchelldyer / Associated Press)
Clippers guard Austin Rivers walks off the court, 11 stitches and all, after the Game 6 loss to the Trail Blazers.(Steve Dykes / Getty Images)
Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum drives down the lane against Clippers guard Austin Rivers during the second half of Game 6.(Craig Mitchelldyer / Associated Press)
Clippers guard J.J. Redick puts up an awkward shot as he’s guarded by Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum, right, and center Mason Plumlee during the second half of Game 6.(Craig Mitchelldyer / Associated Press)
Clippers guard Austin Rivers, who sustained a gash over his left eye in the first half, heads to the bench during a break in play in the second half.(Craig Mitchelldyer / Associated Press)
Clippers guard Jamal Crawford pulls up on a drive and looks to pass against the Trail Blazers during the first half of Game 6.(Steve Dykes / Getty Images)
Clippers guard Austin Rivers fell to the court with a gash above his left eye after taking an inadvertent elbow to the face from Trail Blazers forward Al-Farouq Aminu (not pictured) during the first quarter of Game 6.(Steve Dykes / Getty Images)
Clippers guard Austin Rivers is helped off the court by a trainer after getting hit in the face during the first quarter of Game 6.(Steve Dykes / Getty Images)
Clippers center DeAndre Jordan throws down a dunk against the Trail Blazers during the first half of Game 6.(Craig Mitchelldyer / Associated Press)
Clippers Coach Doc Rivers discusses a call with referee Sean Wright during the first half of Game 6 in Portland.(Steve Dykes / Getty Images)
Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) reacts after scoring against the Clippers in the first quarter of Game 6.(Steve Dykes / Getty Images)
Clippers guard Austin Rivers drives to the basket against the Trail Blazers during the first half of Game 6 of the NBA Western Conference Playoffs on April 29.(Steve Dykes / Getty Images)
Clippers center DeAndre Jordan tries to power his way to the basket against the Trail Blazers during the first half of Game 6.(Craig Mitchelldyer / Associated Press)
Griffin was on crutches and did not accompany his teammates here for Game 6. Doc Rivers said it wasn’t a good idea for Griffin or Paul, who underwent surgery on his hand, to travel this early in their recoveries.
The Clippers were down a second point guard midway through the first quarter when Austin Rivers took an inadvertent elbow to the face from Al-Farouq Aminu while fighting for an offensive rebound. Rivers’ eye gushed blood onto the court and he eventually retreated to the locker room to have four stitches on a cut above his eye and seven stitches on a cut below it.
Rivers returned midway through the second quarter but by the end of the game his cut appeared to reopen, blood running down the side of his face and dripping down his chin.
“I can’t really see out of it,” Rivers said, his eye black and blue and nearly swollen shut. “We needed everybody out there.”
Short of bodies, their heart was nearly enough.
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter: @latbbolch