LOS ANGELES — In the NBA playoffs, every possession counts. Every missed shot, every turnover, every rebound could be the one that separates a win from a loss.
In the Clippers’ case Saturday afternoon, there were several. Little mistakes added up to a discouraging day and an acknowledgement that their first-round series against the Golden State Warriors is going to be long and grinding.
But they probably already knew that.
Game 1 in the best-of-seven series was not how they drew it up. They lost 109-105 at Staples Center because they didn’t make the right plays when it counted.
"I think the lesson for all of our guys is that the playoffs are a single possession game for 48 minutes," coach Doc Rivers said. "We made too many single mistakes that eventually add up to a loss."
It could have turned out much better. The Clippers forced 21 turnovers, held Stephen Curry to 6-of-16 shooting and got off to an explosive start, but they were undone by a poor third quarter and by errors down the stretch.
Oh, and forward Blake Griffin played much of the game in foul trouble, restricting him to just 19 minutes 14 seconds. He fouled out with 48.3 seconds left and the game tied 105-105.
As a result of his predicament, Griffin never really found an offensive consistency and finished with 16 points and three rebounds.
"In the third quarter," he said, "I felt like I got into somewhat of a rhythm, but I kept putting myself in a hole, in a bad situation, fouling."
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Without Griffin on the floor, the Clippers at times looked rudderless. And late in the game, when he could have provided a key defensive stop or a critical basket, he had to play carefully.
"Blake is our go-to guy," Chris Paul said. "Contrary to what people may think, we go through B.G. As you can see, he’s tough to guard. When he only plays 19 minutes, it’s tough. I kept telling him, âI need you.’ "
Paul, so reliable in the clutch, was at the center of three deciding moments, none of which turned out well.
In one, he had a 3-on-1 fastbreak with Darren Collison and J.J. Redick but elected to pull up for a short jumper that missed. It would have tied the game 105-105, but instead, the Warriors rebounded and Harrison Barnes scored a three-pointer at the other end.
Paul also lost the dribble out of bounds with 18.9 seconds left and the Clippers trailing 107-105, then missed two free throws with 11.9 remaining and the Warriors ahead by three points.
"I probably should’ve given the ball up to J.J. or D.C., who were running with me," Paul said of the missed fastbreak. "I try to make the right decision in those situations, and I didn’t."
The Clippers had a 12-1 lead in the first four minutes, but it was never going to be a runaway. And it wasn’t.
The Clippers had defensive lapses, allowing Jermaine O’Neal to score several easy baskets in the second half, and they didn’t get the necessary contributions from their second unit. Jamal Crawford, Collison and Danny Granger were a combined 5 for 24.
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"I think both teams want to win so bad," said Redick, who scored a career postseason high 22 points. "Both teams want to beat each other. That led to some out-of-character play on both sides. We’ve just got to regroup."
There’s time. The teams meet again Monday night, but now there’s no home-court advantage for the Clippers. They’ll have to win at least one on the road to move on.
More than anything, they’ll have to fix everything that went wrong in the opener.
"Just a bunch of small mistakes that are big mistakes toward the end," Griffin said. "Those are the times that we’ve really closed out games. A missed shot, a point-blank shot by me, then a dumb foul by me again… We just didn’t do it.
"But with all the mistakes we did make, to be in the game is encouraging."
If there was anything to cling to afterward, that was it.