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The Sports Report: Clippers fail to reach conference finals (again)

Kawhi Leonard grabs a rebound over Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic.
(Associated Press)

Howdy, I’m your host, Houston Mitchell. If you’re a Clippers fan, don’t try to make any souffle’s today. They will collapse.

Andrew Greif on the Clippers: Trailing Denver by 15 points with eight minutes to play in their season, the Clippers called a timeout. As players leaned in to hear the directions of their coach, Doc Rivers, guard Lou Williams buried his face in a towel, then spiked it to the floor.

It would only get worse.

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By the end of their third consecutive collapse when leading by double digits, a run in which they forfeited a series 3-1 lead and added another disastrous chapter to their 50-year history of playoff misery, Clippers players stood on the bench, with thousand-yard stares, as the Nuggets dominated the closing minutes — and the final week — of this matchup.

Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the superstars whose additions 14 months ago were expected to bring the Clippers to unprecedented heights, checked out with 84 seconds remaining. When the final buzzer mercifully rang , they walked off in silence.

Denver’s 104-89 victory Tuesday night makes it the first team in NBA history to win multiple series when trailing 3-1 and sends the Nuggets into the Western Conference finals against the Lakers beginning Friday in the NBA bubble near Orlando, Fla.

All season, that matchup had been viewed as likely to be contested between the Clippers and Lakers — teams that share an arena, and championship ambitions this season, but never faced one another in the postseason.

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Yet all season, there was an unanswered question about how they would get there: Could the Clippers blend their grit from the previous season with the talent of their current roster?

The answer, as seen throughout this series, was a resounding no.

The Clippers lost their final three games after leading by 16, 19 and 12 points, respectively.

In Game 7, they were outscored 60-33 in the second half. Leonard scored 14 points, George 10 and they were outplayed by the Nuggets’ Jamal Murray, who had 40 points, and Nikola Jokic, who had 16 points, 22 rebounds and 13 assists.

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No. 2 Clippers vs. No. 3 Denver
Second round
All times Pacific

Game 1: Clippers 120, Denver 97
Game 2: Denver 110, Clippers 101
Game 3: Clippers 113, Denver 107
Game 4: Clippers 96, Denver 85
Game 5: Denver 111, Clippers 105
Game 6: Denver 111, Clippers 98
Game 7: Denver 104, Clippers 89

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
All times Pacific
No. 1 Lakers vs. No. 3 Denver

Game 1: Friday, 6 p.m., TNT
Game 2: Sunday, 4:30 p.m., TNT
Game 3: Tuesday, 6 p.m., TNT
Game 4: Thursday, Sept. 24, 6 p.m., TNT
Game 5*: Saturday, Sept. 26, 6 p.m., TNT
Game 6*: Monday, Sept. 28, TBD, TNT
Game 7*: Wed., Sept. 30, TBD, TNT

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DODGERS

Jorge Castillo on the Dodgers: Dave Roberts did not flinch. With his club nursing a two-run lead in the ninth inning against the punchy San Diego Padres Tuesday night, the Dodgers manager gave the ball to the man he says he still trusts to close games. He went to Kenley Jansen.

For a few moments, Jansen appeared in control. The right-hander got Fernando Tatis Jr., a favorite to win the National League MVP award, to groundout to pull within two outs. Then things went sideways. Manny Machado lined a single. Mitch Moreland blooped a single to center field with help from AJ Pollock’s slow jump. He walked Austin Nola to load the bases.

Wil Myers was next and Jansen found a rhythm, striking him out on three pitches. Then, six pitches later, he got Jake Cronenworth to whiff for strike three to preserve the 3-1 win at Petco Park. Three days after being charged with five runs without getting an out against the Houston Astros, Jansen earned his 11th save. The Dodgers’ lead in the NL West grew back to 2.5 games with 11 games remaining after Monday’s late-inning collapse in the series opener. The Padres’ winning streak ended at eight.

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The Dodgers’ dugout, hushed the night before, roared to life with Edwin Ríos’ flick of the wrist in the fifth inning Tuesday. The roars echoed through the hollow ballparkwhile Ríos completed his galloping trot around the bases after depositing a sinker from Zach Davies over the right-field wall for a solo home run. Ríos had padded the Dodgers’ slim margin and amplified the energy.

Tony Gonsolin made sure the lead sustained with the best start of his major-league career. Gonsolin muzzled the punchy Padres over a career-high seven innings. He allowed one run on four hits despite only recording two strikeouts. He didn’t issue a walk and threw 90 pitches.

————

MLB, players union agree to playoff bubble plan that includes L.A. and San Diego

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ANGELS

Mike DiGiovanna on the Angels: It was a softball question, standard fare for a soon-to-be free agent whose seven-year, $58-million contract expires in a few weeks, but to Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons, it looked like a nasty slider.

Asked before Tuesday night’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks whether he wants to return to the Angels next season, Simmons hemmed and hawed before giving a vague answer that sparked more questions.

“I plead the fifth,” Simmons said.

Simmons, 31, is in his prime, a four-time Gold Glove Award winner who is an elite defender at one of baseball’s most demanding positions, a solid .280 hitter with occasional power, but he has not reached the postseason since 2013 with the Atlanta Braves.

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Barring a miracle finish to this 60-game season, the Angels will miss the playoffs for the sixth straight year and finish with a losing record for the fifth straight season under general manager Billy Eppler, whose first move after being hired in the fall of 2015 was to acquire Simmons in a five-player trade with Atlanta.

USC FOOTBALL

Ryan Kartje on USC football: With college football carrying on elsewhere across the nation while programs in California remain unable to practice, USC football players made a public plea on Tuesday, asking Gov. Gavin Newsom in a letter to loosen restrictions surrounding college sports and “please let us play.”

“We have sat by for two weeks watching teams across the country play the game we love safely,” sophomore quarterback Kedon Slovis wrote directly to Newsom on Twitter. “Most schools have a fraction of the resources that our school and conference have provided to play safely. You are the only thing holding us back.”

The letter praised Newsom for his leadership in previously listening to athletes’ voices and even offered support for the Pac-12’s initial, science-based decision to postpone the football season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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SPARKS

Thuc Nhi Nguyen on the Sparks: Forward Candace Parker was chosen Associated Press defensive player of the year Tuesday after leading the WNBA in rebounding. With 9.7 rebounds and 1.2 blocked shots per game this season, Parker anchored the third-rated Sparks defense as the team finished third in the league standings.

The Sparks open the playoffs Thursday in a single-elimination second round game.

Parker, 34, was also selected to the AP All-WNBA team, along with the AP’s player of the year A’ja Wilson of the Las Vegas Aces, Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart, Chicago Sky guard Courtney Vandersloot and Dallas Wings guard Arike Ogunbowale.

NBA PLAYOFFS SCHEDULE

CONFERENCE FINALS
EASTERN CONFERENCE

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No. 3 Boston Celtics vs. No. 5 Miami Heat

Game 1: Miami 117, Boston 114 (OT)
Game 2: Thursday, TBD, ESPN
Game 3: Saturday, 5:30 p.m., ESPN
Game 4: Monday, TBD, ESPN
Game 5*: Wed., Sept. 23, TBD, ESPN
Game 6*: Friday, Sept. 25, TBD, ESPN
Game 7*: Sunday, Sept. 27, TBD, ESPN

*-if necessary

NHL PLAYOFFS SCHEDULE


All Times Pacific
Conference finals
Eastern Conference
No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. No. 6 NY Islanders

Game 1: Tampa Bay 8, NY Islanders 2
Game 2: Tampa Bay 2, NY Islanders 1
Game 3: NY Islanders 5, Tampa Bay 3
Game 4: Tampa Bay 4, NY Islanders 1
Game 5: NY Islanders 2, Tampa Bay 1 (2 OT)
Game 6: Thursday, 5 p.m., NBCSN
Game 7*: Saturday, 4:30 p.m., NBC

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Western Conference
No. 1 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 3 Dallas Stars

Game 1: Dallas 1, Vegas 0
Game 2: Vegas 3, Dallas 0
Game 3: Dallas 3, Vegas 2 (OT)
Game 4: Dallas 2, Vegas 1
Game 5: Dallas 3, Vegas 2 (OT)

*-if necessary

WNBA PLAYOFFS SCHEDULE


First round, single elimination
All times Pacific

Tuesday’s results
No. 7 Connecticut Sun 94, No. 6 Chicago Sky 81
No. 5 Phoenix Mercury 85, No. 8 Washington Mystics 84

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Second Round, single elimination

Thursday
No. 4 Minnesota Lynx vs. No. 5 Phoenix Mercury, 4 p.m., ESPN2
No. 3 Sparks vs. No. 7 Connecticut Sun, 6 p.m., ESPN2

TODAY’S LOCAL MAJOR SPORTS SCHEDULE

All times Pacific.

Dodgers at San Diego, 1 p.m., Sportsnet LA, AM 570

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Arizona at Angels, 6:30 p.m., FSW, KLAA 830

THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1885 — The America’s Cup is successfully defended by U.S. yacht Puritan as it beats Britain’s Genesta in two heats.

1926 — Henri Cochet ends Bill Tilden’s six-year reign as the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association champion as he beats Tilden in the quarterfinals.

1927 — Rene Lacoste wins the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association championship, beating Bill Tilden in three sets.

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1951 — Betsy Rawls wins the U.S. Women’s Open golf title by edging Louise Suggs.

1955 — The formation of the United States Auto Club is completed and will oversee four major categories of auto races.

1973 — O.J. Simpson rushes for 250 yards to lead the Buffalo Bills to a 31-13 victory over the New England Patriots.

1989 — No. 1 Notre Dame beats No. 2 Michigan 24-19 in Ann Arbor, Mich. Fighting Irish wide receiver Raghib Ismail stars by returning kickoffs 88 and 92 yards for touchdowns. It’s the second time Ismail has two kickoff returns for touchdowns in the same game, accomplishing the feat against Rice in 1988.

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1993 — Dave Winfield of the Minnesota Twins becomes the 19th player in major league history to get 3,000 hits, with a single off Oakland’s Dennis Eckersley.

1996 — Paul Molitor gets his 3,000th career hit, becoming the 21st major leaguer to reach the mark and the first to do it with a triple.

1997 — Philadelphia’s Curt Schilling strikes out nine in the Phillies win over the New York Mets to become the 13th pitcher since 1900 to record 300 strikeouts in a season.

2000 — Zippy Chippy, a 9-year-old gelding, finishes third in the eighth race at the Three-County Fair in Northampton, Mass., extending his record as the losingest horse in American thoroughbred history to 88 races.

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2001 — Jason Bohn shoots a 13-under 58 at Huron Oaks Country Club to win the Canadian Tour’s Bayer Championship by two strokes and go one below the best round ever shot in PGA Tour-sanctioned competition. Bohn matches the 58 shot by Shigeki Maruyama of Japan in qualifying for the 2000 U.S. Open at the par-71 Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Md.

2007 — Jim Thome is the 23rd player — and third this season — to reach 500 home runs. The slugger hits a two-run shot in the bottom of the ninth inning off reliever Dustin Moseley to give the Chicago White Sox a 9-7 victory over the Los Angeles Angels.

2007 — Bengals QB Carson Palmer passes for six TDs and the Browns’ Derek Anderson has five in Cleveland’s 51-45 win over Cincinnati, making it just the third time in NFL history that two QBs threw five TD passes apiece in the same game. Jamal Lewis of the Browns rushes for 215 yards and a touchdown. Palmer passes for 401 yards and Chad Johnson has 11 catches for 209 yards and two TDs.

2012 — Eli Manning hits 31 of 51 passes for 510 yards — the second-best passing day in team history — with three touchdown passes and three interceptions as the New York Giants rally for a 41-34 win over Tampa Bay.

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2017 — In front of the largest crowd to attend a stand-alone MLS match, Josef Martinez gets his second hat trick in a row and his third of the season to help Atlanta United hold on for a 3-3 draw against Orlando City. Atlanta United sets the record with 70,425 on hand at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. 1996.

And finally

Dave Winfield gets his 3,000th hit. Watch it here.

Until next time...

That concludes today’s newsletter. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.


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