Somehow, some way, the Clippers figured out how to lose another close home game in excruciating fashion.
Trailing 108-107 with just under seven seconds left, the Clips were set to inbound the ball out of a timeout. As Blake Griffin broke free of Boris Diaw and caught an inbounds pass from Jamal Crawford, he quickly turned and attacked the rim, lofting up a floater over Tim Duncan’s outstretched arms. On its way down, the ball bounced onto the left interior of the rim, hanging for a split second. That’s all the time DeAndre Jordan, who was left uncontested after Duncan abandoned him, needed to jump up and tip it in.
Sounds fine, right? Well, the ball was still hovering over the rim when Jordan tapped it, which is offensive interference. Boom. Spurs ball. And, eventually, a 111-107 Game 5 loss (the exact same score of Game 2’s painful overtime loss).
This game had all the effort, intensity and emotion of a Game 7 — the winner of Game 5 tends to win the series historically — which bled into some post-game controversy about how the contest was managed by the referees.
"I don’t complain much," coach Doc Rivers said. "I thought we got some really tough calls tonight, some brutal calls. The travel on Blake [Griffin], the goaltend on Matt [Barnes], which wasn’t a goaltend. You think about the playoffs and they’re single-possession games. Those possessions, those were crucial. J.J. [Redick] ‘s foul that got him out, J.J. didn’t touch anyone.
"It’s not why we lost, but those were big plays for us."
The Clipper players avoided the refereeing issue altogether, choosing to put the blame on themselves.
"This loss is on us," Chris Paul said. "We have to give credit to the Spurs. We have got to play through our mistakes."
Jordan, who was visibly distraught after the game — he sat at his locker with two towels draped over him just staring at the floor — took responsibility for the loss, admitting his offensive goaltending play was "dumb."
"I hit the ball," Jordan said. "We did a good job fighting to put us in a situation to go up one [game in the series]. You can’t blame anybody for that but me. I tipped the ball."
The Clippers will head to San Antonio tomorrow in preparation for Game 6 on Thursday, where their season — and perhaps the future of the team’s foundation — will be on the line.
Here are five takeaways from Game 5:
Pointing the finger the wrong way
After the loss, Rivers passively called out the refereeing crew, claiming the Clippers suffered some "tough" and "brutal" calls. While he’s not wrong — Griffin’s travel, Matt Barnes’ goaltending, and a couple phantom foul calls on Chris Paul and J.J. Redick were suspect — that’s not why the Clippers lost this game. Rivers admitted as much, but the damage is already done. There’s a decent chance he’ll be fined, and a lot of the attention will now shift to the officiating, and away from the mistakes the Clippers continually made down the stretch. Perhaps that was Rivers’ goal with these comments, and if so, he did a good job. But as easy as it to fantasize about, there is no conspiracy against the Clips. Most of the Clippers’ wounds are self-inflicted, and they should treat them as such.
The ‘Other’ 3
The Clippers’ Big 3 — Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan — has been flat-out amazing this series. Despite the comedy of errors late in Games 2 and 5, you couldn’t ask for more out of these three. The deciding factor, it seems, has been the play of the "Other" 3 — J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes and Jamal Crawford. They were below average tonight, and it cost L.A. significantly. Crawford (8 points, 4-of-15 shooting) couldn’t buy a basket, Redick’s offensive rhythm was hampered by foul trouble, and Barnes (7 points, 2-of-5 shooting) was nearly invisible on offense. For the Clips to have any shot in Game 6, they need these to combine for 45-plus points, not 28.
That’s the Clippers’ 3-point shooting percentage tonight. They made one of 14 attempts, which is shockingly rare. According to Basketball-Reference, the Clips’ prior season-low in 3-point makes was three against Denver back in December. The Clippers had made five or fewer 3-pointers only five times this season. This postseason, Los Angeles is shooting 30.4 percent on 3s, third-worst in the playoffs; during the regular season, that figure was 37.6 percent, good for third-best in the NBA. Crawford (17.4 percent) and Barnes (26.3 percent) have seen their regular-season marks drop considerably, and it’s torpedoing L.A.’s offensive efficiency.
Them’s the breaks
No matter how much talent you have or how well you execute, there’s an element of luck that goes into a playoff run. You could make a solid argument that the Clips have been the better team, and should be up 3-2 or won the series 4-1, but the end of games just hasn’t gone their way. The end of Game 2 was a disaster, and Tuesday’s loss might’ve been even worse. We’ll never know whether Griffin’s floater was going to go in, but it looked like it had a solid chance. The Spurs did a better job executing down the stretch of Games 2 and 5, sure, but there was also some randomness that played into their victories. That’s out of the Clippers’ control, and just how the playoffs work.
This is it?
Game 6 is obviously a do-or-die moment for the Clippers. History is against them winning this series, and odds are they’ll heavy underdogs in San Antonio. Similar to last season’s Game 6 against the Oklahoma City Thunder — which was at Staples Center, fortunately — there is a collective sense of disappointment heading into this contest. Last season it cost them, but this season they may be wiser and have learned from their mistakes. Regardless of how this series ends, the Clips have proven that they can hang with the defending champs. They just have minor, fixable flaws — inconsistent 3-point shooting, not enough perimeter defense, no bench depth — that the Spurs continue to expose.