CLIPPERS' GREAT SEASON ENDS IN SWEEP
Ryan Menezes | 5/20/12

LOS ANGELES-As the finality of the end of his first playoff set in, Blake Griffin sank to his haunches on the Staples Center court and put his arms over his head.

In his second professional season, Griffin battled through injuries and the Clippers battled as a team. But even in their best game of the series, it still wasn't enough to beat the Spurs, who finished off a four-game sweep with a 102-99 win Sunday night.

With the loss, one of the greatest seasons in Clippers history ended. In a truncated schedule, the Clippers broke the franchise mark for winning percentage with their 40-26 record.

After the first three games of the series were all double-digit losses, the Clippers dug in and forced the Spurs to play meaningful possessions down the stretch.

"We scrapped. We played hard. At the end of the day playing hard isn't always enough," said Chris Paul, who finished a season with a playoff loss to the Spurs for the second time in his career. "You've got to execute. We didn't get stops when we needed to."

This season, the Clippers usually found a way to get those stops and pull off comebacks. There wasn't enough time for one final escape act against a Spurs team that extended its winning streak to 18 games.

"We always fought back and tried to climb our way back into games," Griffin said. "That's the problem in itself. You don't want to put yourself in that position. [We have to find] a way to be better through three quarters or the first half."

Stat Line of the Night: Chris Paul delivered his best game of the series, putting up 23 points on 50 percent shooting while adding 11 assists and six rebounds. After going "oh-for-the series," as he described it, Paul looked less hindered by his hip injury as he turned up his aggressiveness to attack the Spurs at will.

However, the game ended in un-Paul-like fashion. Twice in the final minute, he sized up Spurs guard Danny Green on isolation possessions with the game on the line. Twice, Paul came up empty, first a bad kick-out pass that missed its mark and next a missed off-balance jumper that could have tied the game.

"I think that's the toughest thing for me," Paul said. "To know that I had two opportunities being in that situation all season long, a lot of times I was able to come through to let my team down in that situation is probably the toughest part of the season and something I'll think about for a while."

Difference Maker: The game served as a microcosm of Eric Bledsoe's long-term value to the Clippers. He came off the bench to spell Paul, then teamed with the Clippers' All-Star point guard to key their best stretch of the game. Bledsoe scored 11 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter - his second double-digit scoring game of the series after registering three such games in the regular season.

The 22-year-old sparkplug was healthy enough to play in only 40 games this season, due to a torn right meniscus, but found his niche on a team loaded with players at his position in his second NBA season.

"He's young, he's only going to improve," Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. "He has to learn how to run a team now and harness some of that speed and go at different speeds at times to get people off balance a little bit. He really came on after he got healthy from his injury and gave us a really big boost at the end of the season and the playoffs."

Turning Point: Paul's final field goal seemed to give the Clippers a big momentum swing. He darted through the lane, picked up a foul on Green, then threw up a shot that rolled off the top of the backboard and dropped through the net, to the rowdy cheers of the sellout crowd. It gave the Clippers a one-point edge, which the Spurs quickly erased. Tony Parker rolled off the next four points, two of many chances the Spurs converted from close range down the stretch.

More Stats: Blake Griffin had 21 points on 9-of-20 shooting and five rebounds.

DeAndre Jordan scored 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds while logging the most minutes he did all playoffs (30:50).

The Clippers had four players score in double figures. The Spurs had six, led by Tim Duncan (21) and Tony Parker (17).

Hot: Bledsoe, who shot 8-of-10 from the field and made his only 3-point attempt.

Not: The Clippers from 3-point range. As a team, they went 4-of-16.

Quotables:

On the Spurs:

Blake Griffin: "They've played extremely well, but it doesn't make us feel any better (losing to a good team). There's nothing about that that you can feel good about."

DeAndre Jordan: "They know how to win. I felt like we played a great game today. We played hard. Everybody played tremendously hard. We just came up short again. We're not going to hang our heads on it. We're going to stay as positive as we can. This is a great learning experience for us."

On Paul's injury and worth to the team:

Vinny Del Negro: "He doesn't have that extra burst that he usually has. You can see it, that extra pop. Like I said before, we're not in the second round of the playoffs without Chris Paul. He gives you everything he has, all the time. He's as competitive as they come and I can't say enough things about how much he's brought to the team, the organization, the city, the fans, to everybody in terms of his competitive and the way he handles himself."

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