LOS ANGELES — Maybe there were just too many distractions. Maybe, after a while, the sheer weight of everything was too much for the Clippers.
Their season ended with a thud. They pushed and pushed, hoping they could extend their playoff series with the Oklahoma City Thunder just one more game, but they had nothing left.
No more push, no more emotion, no more life. It was visible in the final moments of their 104-98 Game 6 loss to the Thunder at Staples Center on Thursday night. All their energy was sapped.
"Disappointed," Blake Griffin said.
"It’s tough," Chris Paul said.
And perhaps understandable.
The Clippers carried the burden of deposed owner Donald Sterling, banned for life by the NBA after making racially explosive comments that became public. It followed them every day, from their first-round series against the Golden State Warriors through their grueling series against the Thunder, with no letup.
Then, to lose Thursday after once holding a 16-point lead in the second quarter was too much.
"The locker room was not very good after the game, in a sad way," coach Doc Rivers said. "Just watching our guys, it just felt like all this stuff that they’ve gone through, they kind of released their emotions. That was tough. That was tough to see for me, as one of their leaders."
The disappointment was written in their faces. Darren Collison sat in front of his locker, still wearing his uniform, and stared at the ceiling. Others dressed slowly, saying nothing. Rivers emerged from the locker room looking drained.
"It’s going to be a long summer, I’ll tell you that much," Chris Paul said.
This was a series they felt they could win — and should have won. But they let a sizable lead slip away Tuesday in Oklahoma City and then couldn’t sustain their first-half rhythm in the second half Thursday.
"I believe we were good enough to win it this year," Rivers said. "Oklahoma City told us we were not. So we have to do more."
No miracle finish this time – Clips’ season ends as Thunder advance
The Clippers had an eight-point lead at the half but were outscored by 14 points in the second half. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were a combined 4-of-16 shooting in the first two quarters but regained their shooting touch in the final two. Durant had 25 points in the second half, Westbrook 17.
"We missed a lot of shots, they made a lot of shots," Rivers said. "The old adage, it’s a make-miss league came true tonight."
The frustration the Clippers felt at not being able to get defensive stops, and missing so many easy baskets, spilled into the stands. Angry at successive charging calls on Paul and Griffin in the third quarter, fans threw cups filled with water or beer on the floor. It took several minutes to clean up the mess.
But the anger was misplaced. The Clippers simply didn’t do the things they needed, most of all forcing Durant (39 points) and Westbrook (19) into making difficult shots and holding the others in check. Steven Adams, Reggie Jackson and Nick Collison gave OKC good minutes off the bench.
"They made a run in the third quarter," center DeAndre Jordan said. "We kind of had a lapse on defense, they got the lead and it was big. It was hard for us to come back."
Whether it was a loss of energy or focus, the Clippers couldn’t get in sync at either end of the floor. Even when the Thunder struggled to make shots, they couldn’t take advantage.
At the end of a 31-14 run, which gave OKC a 96-86 lead, the Clippers were officially finished.
"I thought we just got stagnant," said Griffin, who scored 22. "They came out and executed. I don’t know if it was energy. We just didn’t execute."
They refused to place blame on their in-house turmoil, which is certain to carry on long after Thursday’s game. They ignored it as best they could.
"It hasn’t been tough," Jordan said. "We’re just playing basketball. We ignored the outside stuff and focused on who was in our locker room and guys trying to win basketball games."
But in the end, they didn’t win the game they needed most.