- Arash Markazi, ESPN Staff Writer
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Chris Paul didn't say anything.
He stared blankly straight ahead at nothing in particular without blinking, immune to the noise around him.
Usually, Paul's voice can be heard booming in the Clippers' locker room after a win or loss. He'll be replaying key moments to his teammates, complaining about officials he doesn't like or talking about different options on plays he might have missed.
There was none of that Tuesday night after a nightmarish final 45 seconds that Paul described as "the toughest thing I've been through, basketball-wise."
At that point, the Clippers were up 104-97 on the Thunder after a 17-foot pull-up jump shot by Paul. It seemed as if the Clippers would be one win away from the franchise's first conference finals appearance with Game 6 taking place in Los Angeles.
That's when Paul and the Clippers imploded and, as Doc Rivers said during a fiery postgame news conference, "made a comedy of errors."
Paul's errors began after Kevin Durant hit a 3-pointer and a fast-break layup to bring Oklahoma City to within 104-102 with 17 seconds left. When Paul got the inbounds pass from Matt Barnes, he assumed Russell Westbrook was going to foul him, and he jumped up and lost the ball. Reggie Jackson grabbed the loose ball, headed toward the basket, but lost the ball out of bounds after getting hit by Matt Barnes. No foul was called, but the Thunder retained possession.
Five seconds later, Paul fouled Westbrook on a 3-pointer and Oklahoma City took the lead after Westbrook made all three free throws. The Clippers, however, still had a chance to win the game, down one, with the ball, 6.4 seconds left and the ball in Paul's hands. But the All-Star guard never got a shot off and lost the ball on the dribble as time expired.
In the biggest game of his career, Paul suddenly experienced the worst 45-second stretch of his career and was at a loss for words when trying to explain what happened.
"It's me. Everything that happened there at the end is on me," Paul said. "The turnover with 17 seconds left, assuming they were going to foul was the dumbest play I've ever made. To even put it in the official's hand to call a foul on a 3 ... it's just bad basketball."
Paul didn't agree with every call down the stretch. He didn't think the Thunder should have received the ball after watching it go off Jackson out of bounds, and he didn't think he fouled Westbrook on his 3-pointer. But his two turnovers were all that mattered to him in the end.
"I didn't feel like I did [foul Westbrook], but it doesn't matter," Paul said. "We lost. It's on me. They scored and we have a chance to win on the last play and I don't even get a shot up. That's just dumb. I'm supposed to be the leader of the team. That can't happen. The league can issue a statement tomorrow saying the ball was off them, but who [cares]? We lost."
While Rivers spent the majority of his 10-minute postgame news conference complaining that the officials "robbed" the Clippers of a win after missing the out-of-bounds call on Jackson, Paul spent most of his time taking the blame. The Jackson play doesn't happen if Paul doesn't turn the ball over. The Clippers aren't trailing if Paul doesn't foul Westbrook as he attempts a 3-pointer, and none of that matters if Paul hits a winning jumper in the end.
As Paul replayed the game in his mind, he kept coming back to himself and his errors as the reason the Clippers weren't able to close the game.
"With 17 seconds, up two, just dribble the ball up and let them foul you, I probably tricked myself into assuming Russ was going to foul or they were going to call a foul, and then you can't foul a 3-point shooter," Paul said. "That's the dumbest thing ever. Even if I didn't foul him, don't even give them a chance to call it. It was just bad."
Paul is no stranger to complaining about officials after games, but on a night when his coach blamed the officials for the Clippers' loss, Paul refused to blame anyone but himself. There were several reasons the Clippers blew a 13-point lead with less than four minutes to go, but the only reasons Paul cared about were the ones he caused and the ones he could have corrected.
"We got to keep playing, but this one was bad, though," Paul said. "This is bad. To work that hard and have the game and give it away ... I pride myself on taking care of the ball and managing games towards the end. None of the guys on the team could have done anything about it. It was just me. ... We shouldn't have been in that situation. That's on me."
The Clippers have become accustomed to dealing with and overcoming adversity on and off the court this postseason, but Paul never looked more defeated and more crushed than he did leaving Chesapeake Energy Arena on Tuesday night. When he was asked how he would get over the loss, the point guard who prides himself on always having an answer had none.
"I don't know," Paul said. "I don't know. You just do. This one's bad. Get ready for Game 6."
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Chris Paul didn't say anything.He stared blankly straight ahead at nothing in particular without blinking, immune to the noise around him.