By BETH HARRIS, AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Together for six years now, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin have yet to make it past the second round of the playoffs. Heck, the Los Angeles Clippers haven’t even gotten out of the first round two years running.
And that’s not the worst of it.
The Clippers are the first team in NBA history to blow a series lead in five consecutive playoff appearances.
“Once again, we’re done,” a dejected Paul said. “Too many times.”
Their latest failure came Sunday, a 104-91 loss in Game 7 at home against the Utah Jazz. After six closely contested games decided by an average of 5.1 points, the Clippers turned in a flat effort with their season — and perhaps future — at stake.
They fought all season to earn home-court advantage only to lose three of four to the Jazz at Staples Center. Their 2-1 series lead vanished along with Griffin, who went down with a season-ending toe injury in Game 3.
He wasn’t around to watch the team’s demise, having traveled to consult with a doctor about possible surgery.
Whether Griffin’s around next season is one of the big questions facing the franchise.
Griffin and Chris Paul can opt out of their contracts this summer. J.J. Redick — who made one basket in Game 7 — becomes a free agent.
Ultimately, they hold the future of the franchise in their hands.
For his part, third-year owner Steve Ballmer would have to shell out upward of $200 million, including the luxury tax, to keep the trio together.
“We’ve been reading about our obituary for about three months now,” coach Doc Rivers said. “I’m sure everyone will have their own suggestions.”
The Clippers began the season as the league’s best team at 14-2. They ended the regular season as the hottest team with a seven-game winning streak. Then they blew a 2-1 lead against the Jazz, leaving their fans wondering if the Lob City era is over.
Here are some things to know about the Clippers heading into the offseason:
GRIFFIN & PAUL
They can choose to exercise the early termination options on their contracts and become free agents. By doing so, they could still sign richer long-term deals to stay in L.A. Griffin has missed portions of the last two postseasons with injuries, and although he’s only 28, Ballmer will surely ponder whether he wants to continue focusing his franchise around such an injury-prone player. Paul carried the Clippers through the first six games against the Jazz before they shut him down with 13 points in Game 7. He turns 32 on Saturday and while he is still an All-Star, Ballmer must consider whether to commit bigger bucks over several years to Paul. Or Griffin and Paul could decide it’s time to go elsewhere to pursue an elusive title.
During the regular season, Griffin missed 19 games with a sore right knee that required a procedure, while Paul sat out 21 games with a hamstring issue and a ligament tear in his left thumb. A year ago, Paul broke his hand and Griffin re-aggravated a quad injury in a first-round playoff loss against Portland. Griffin had missed 41 games because of the quad during the regular season, in addition to losing time after breaking his hand punching the team’s assistant equipment manager. Because of the injuries, Ballmer may decide it’s worth keeping them around to take another crack at winning the franchise’s first NBA championship.
He just completed his fourth season in L.A. working the dual roles of president of basketball operations and coach. Under him, the team has a .662 winning percentage in the regular season. But the Clippers have consistently failed to contend for a title, going 18-21 with a .462 winning percentage in the playoffs. None of the team’s draft picks under Rivers has developed into solid support for the Big Three of Griffin, Paul and DeAndre Jordan. The team had a short bench against the Jazz, including 39-year-old Paul Pierce, who played 21 minutes in Game 7 and scored six points in his career finale. Four players — Alan Anderson, Brandon Bass, Brice Johnson and Wesley Johnson — saw little or no minutes in the series. Given his role as part of the brain trust, Rivers shares responsibility for the continued playoff failures.
He didn’t boost his stock with a three-point effort on 1 of 5 shooting in Game 7 after slumping the entire series. Redick averaged 15.0 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists during the regular season, when he made a career and franchise-high 201 3-pointers. He’s one of five players to make 200 or more 3-pointers in three or more consecutive seasons. At 32, he may be ready for a change of scenery.
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