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Column: Clunking Clippers rebuild curse brick by brick in Game 4 loss to Suns

Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) looks to control a rebound during first half of the Clippers' 84-80 loss.
Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) looks to control a rebound during the first half of the Clippers’ 84-80 loss in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals at Staples Center on Saturday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Ten blown chances.

One blown season?

Ten times the Clippers took a shot that would have given them the lead, handed them the momentum, possibly won this game.

Ten times in the fourth quarter of another stirring comeback against the Phoenix Suns on Saturday, the Clippers had a chance to ride the Staples Center roar to an equalizer in the Western Conference finals.

Ten times they crapped out.

Ten clanks, bricks and blocks. Ten missed layups, floaters and threes.

Clippers assistant Chauncey Billups has emerged as the candidate the Portland Trail Blazers have identified to be their next head coach.

Ten examples of how, just when you least expect it, the Clippers Curse lives, and, goodness, how it howled on a night that felt like a joyride derailed.

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Hanging on for dear life against the barrage of Clippers clunkers, the Suns survived an 84-80 Game 4 victory to give them a three-games-to-one advantage and a clear path to the NBA Finals.

“Shots just wouldn’t drop, unfortunately,” the Clippers’ Reggie Jackson said.

And now the other shoe drops. The Clippers continually have come back in this postseason, but they’ve never faced an obstacle like this, needing to win three out of four games without their best player against a full-strength Suns team with as many as two more games in Phoenix.

“We’ve been down before,” Jackson said. “It’s tough.”

Late in Saturday’s game, with the Clippers down by five, a voice boomed over the public address system, “This is our house, this is our time.”

It was, and it wasn’t.

Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton battles Clippers guard Reggie Jackson for a rebound.
Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) battles Clippers guard Reggie Jackson (1) for a rebound during Game 4 of the NBA Western Conference finals.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

It was one of the Clippers’ loudest crowds ever, the place rocking for more than two hours with Thunderstix and stomps and screams, their house indeed.

But this might not be the Clippers’ time, as they ran out of gas early and ran out of luck late. The Clippers trailed by as many as 16 in the third quarter, but mounted a furious comeback that put them back in the game.

They edged back within three at the end of the third quarter to set up the late heroics.

But on a night when Paul George made five of 20 shots and the entire team made just five of 31 three-point attempts, there were no Clippers heroes.

On a night when the Clippers made just three baskets in that fourth quarter while missing 16 shots, there were no Clippers stars.

On a night when the Suns’ leaders Chris Paul and Devin Booker combined to go just 14 for 44 and Booker fouled out late and the Clippers still couldn’t take advantage, there was no home-team happy ending.

The Clippers rally from a 14-point halftime deficit but struggle with their shooting in the fourth quarter in an 84-80 loss to the Phoenix Suns.

“I thought we competed … couldn’t make shots,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “Thought we got — took it personal a few times and just kind of over-dribbled sometimes. But for the most part we competed, and that’s going to happen… we’ve just got to make some shots. That’s it.”

With 10:07 left in the game, the Clippers trailed 71-70 and had the ball with a chance to take the lead. Again and again and again. Over the next several minutes, they watched their season unravel as their shots spun out.

“It was tough because we fought all the way back to get it to a one-point game, and we had looks that we normally make all season and they weren’t falling,” Terance Mann said. “The game could have easily went a whole different way if we were hitting those shots. It’s tough to see. It’s tough to be a part of.”

Nicolas Batum missed a three, Mann’s layup was blocked by Cameron Payne, George missed a three, George’s layup was blocked by Mikal Bridges. George missed a jumper. Ivica Zubac missed a jumper. Jackson missed a three. George missed another jumper. George missed. Jackson missed another layup.

That’s 10, right?

“We felt like we had some good looks,” Jackson said. “Some of them didn’t fall and some of them that we did have we passed up on. We put ourselves in late shot-clock situations at times and a couple key turnovers at the end.”

Highlights from the Clippers’ 84-80 loss to the Phoenix Suns in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals on Saturday.

When the Clippers had finished failing to capitalize on the Suns’ equally poor shooting, Paul hit a layup with 3:43 left to give the Suns a three-point lead and the Clippers never had a chance to lead again.

The crowd continued to roar, and there was some final-seconds drama, but the game already had been lost.

Yes, as it turns out, on this most ghastly of nights, the Clippers never led once. And, yes, rather fittingly, the Clippers’ loss was clinched in the final seconds when George missed a free throw. Besides his overall terrible shooting night, George missed six of 18 free throws and made just one of nine three-point tries.

“Playoff P” is once again a figment of his imagination, and there once again will be legitimate questions about whether he can ever lead a championship team.

George left the game to scattered boos, and the Clippers might have left Staples Center for the last time this season to cheers from rowdy Suns fans.

A Clippers team that already lost one game in this series on an alley-oop has now lost one because of a bunch of oops.

“This series could be very different if a handful of plays we could take back,” George said.

On this night, 10 of them.

Clippers-Suns finals schedule
(Tim Hubbard / Los Angeles Times)


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