There was something the Clippers did not want to make room for as they packed their belongings for the two most pivotal games of their season.
It would be easy to question themselves after so many things went sideways in the final minutes of their crushing 111-107 overtime loss in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday.
J.J. Redick missed a technical foul free throw that hung on the rim as if it was suffering from a bout of indecisiveness. Matt Barnes missed three of four free throws and a layup in the final four minutes of the fourth quarter. Blake Griffin lost the ball while dribbling with 11.9 seconds left and the Clippers leading by two points.
Need more Clippers’ lapses? No problem. There was still the overtime to play.
Griffin made only one of four shots and committed another turnover. Barnes missed another shot, capping a one-for-10 shooting performance.
The Clippers’ charter flight might have struggled to make it off the runway Thursday, so heavy were the regrets the team carried with it to San Antonio for the next two games in a series tied at one game apiece. Game 3 is Friday evening at the AT&T Center.
“It’s difficult,” Griffin acknowledged late Wednesday night, “but at the same time sometimes things like this kind of refocus how you go about the next couple days to prepare.
“You know, we said during practice [Tuesday] that when you lose that first game, that’s all you think about, and so they came out like that. They came out like that’s all they thought about, like they were ready to play, and I expect us to respond in the same manner.”
Clippers center DeAndre Jordan undoubtedly will work on his free throws, but he may not be alone in toeing the line. The Clippers missed 17 of 37 free throws in Game 2, their inaccuracy extending beyond Jordan’s 11 misses in 17 attempts. All but three of Jordan’s tries came as a result of being intentionally fouled.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told a group of sports editors in New York on Thursday that he was “on the fence” about the league changing its policy on intentional fouls before next season. Silver said making free throws was part of the game and he found the strategy part of the tactic “fascinating,” but he also conceded all the trips to the line could compel television viewers to stop watching.
The Clippers’ free-throw struggles were only part of an inability to finish that stirred reminders of their Game 5 failures against Oklahoma City in last season’s Western Conference semifinals. Chris Paul missed a 19-foot jumper in the final seconds of regulation against the Spurs and Griffin couldn’t connect on a tip-in.
No biggie, as far as Clippers Coach Doc Rivers was concerned.
“It’s a loss,” said Rivers, who did not hold a practice Thursday or make his players available to the media. “Win the next one, we’re happy again. That’s called sports, you know.”
Rivers was probably incensed after Jordan finished third in voting for the defensive player of the year with 261 points, behind winner Kawhi Leonard of the Spurs (333 points) and runner-up Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors (317). Rivers had said in March that there “should be an investigation” if Jordan did not win the award.
Some might be calling for an inquiry into the Clippers’ bench after their reserves were outscored, 48-17, by their Spurs counterparts in Game 2.
TNT analyst Charles Barkley said after the game that the series had become “a battle of attrition,” citing the Clippers’ lack of bench depth as well as an Achilles’ injury suffered by San Antonio’s Tony Parker and heavy minutes logged by the Spurs’ aging Tim Duncan.
But unlike the Clippers, the Spurs appear to have plenty of help off their bench. Patty Mills, Boris Diaw and Marco Belinelli all stepped up to help San Antonio persevere in Game 2.
Squandering home-court advantage will require the Clippers to put their road success to the test. They won a franchise-record 26 road games during the regular season, including a triumph at the AT&T Center, but they realize this will be tougher.
“Totally different game in the postseason,” Paul said. “You’ve got to go in there and you’ve got to win it. You’ve got to go take it.”
In other words, do everything the opposite of the way the Clippers handled things in the final minutes of Game 2.
Times staff writer John Cherwa contributed to this report.