The starts and stops of a still uneven Clippers season ventured toward another confounding issue.
They lacked poise when it was needed the most and they failed to execute when the game was in the balance, leading to the Clippers suffering a gut-wrenching 97-95 loss to the underwhelming Dallas Mavericks on Thursday night at American Airlines Center.
That the game came down to a last-second missed three-pointer by J.J. Redick for the win with so much riding on the contest was the most puzzling part.
So now the three-game winning streak has been snapped and the fifth-seeded Clippers dropped 1½ games behind the fourth-place Utah Jazz in the Western Conference. The two teams will play Saturday at Staples Center in a game of significance.
But the Clippers also have sixth-place Oklahoma City breathing down their necks, pulling to within one game of L.A.
“Yeah, this time of the year, losses I think impact you a little bit more because you can actually see the standings and see the race come down to the final however many games it’s going to be,” said Blake Griffin, who had 21 points on nine-for-23 shooting and four turnovers.
The Clippers will especially look at the final 2 minutes 30 seconds of the game and lament all of their miscues that led to a defeat to a 31-40 Dallas team.
The Clippers had a 95-92 lead at that juncture, but never scored again.
Over that stretch, they turned the ball over three times and missed three shots.
“It’s a bad one,” Chris Paul, who had 15 points and four turnovers, said about the loss and how it all went down.
Paul turned the ball over on the sideline with Dirk Nowitzki defending him, Jamal Crawford lost the ball on the ensuing play for the Clippers, Paul shot an airball and Griffin turned the ball over for the final ignominy.
And there was Paul being called for a technical foul with 5:20 left, giving the Mavericks a free point after Seth Curry made the free throw. There also was Crawford being called for a foul before the ball was inbounded right after Paul’s technical, giving the Mavericks another free point on Wesley Matthews’ free throw that tied the score.
“I definitely take responsibility for it, for that fourth-quarter technical,” Paul said. “That’s one of the biggest things that [Clippers Coach] Doc [Rivers] talks about, no fourth-quarter techs.”
Even after all that, the Clippers had one last gasp because Matthews made only one of two free throws with 0.9 seconds left and the Mavericks holding a two-point lead.
When Redick curled around a screen and broke free, Paul found his backcourt mate free in the corner.
Redick pulled up for a three-pointer that looked right-on, but the ball hit the rim and bounced away, sending the Clippers to a difficult loss.
“Honestly, we just have to be better in the last three minutes,” Rivers said. “We had a lot of little miscues. The foul before the ball. That’s one point. The tech. That’s one point. I just thought we had poor execution on a few plays. That has to be what we got to be great at.”