Commentary

It all ends quickly for Clippers

After record-setting season, L.A. is done in first round of playoffs, and it hurts

Updated: May 4, 2013, 3:34 AM ET
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPNLosAngeles.com

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- That was fast. Way, way too fast.

For the season to be over and offseason questions to begin. For the dust to start settling. For all that was good for the Los Angeles Clippers this year to have gone so badly in the end.

But when you lose the way the Clippers lost this first-round playoff series to the Memphis Grizzlies, when you flat-out get beat, things feel cold and numb, not raw.

All the anger and emotion the Clippers showed in Friday's 118-105 loss to the Grizzlies was left on the court. The postgame locker room was solemn, not raw. Because to a man, everyone in the room knew what happened.

The Grizzlies were just better.

The Grizzlies just beat them.

The Clippers just weren't good enough.

[+] EnlargeBlake Griffin
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesBlake Griffin said of the Clippers' Game 6 loss to Memphis and first-round playoff exit: "It's very frustrating."

It's a sobering reality for a team with as high of expectations as the Clippers brought with them into the playoffs.

But after four straight games in which the Grizzlies outplayed, outworked and outfought them, there is no other conclusion to draw.

All those wonderful things that happened for the Clippers this season mean nothing now. The franchise-record 56 wins in the regular season and 17-game winning streak in December, Chris Paul's brilliance, Blake Griffin's steak, Jamal Crawford's sizzle and all that beautiful chemistry they have ... all those are just nice stories now.

"Our season is over," Paul said sharply after the game. "There's nothing great to take away from it. We lost."

If that sounds harsh, you're rooting for the old Clippers. For the way things used to be.

Things have changed. Expectations are different. First- and second-round playoff exits aren't good enough anymore.

Paul was profoundly disappointed. So was every player and coach in the locker room Friday night. So was Clippers management and ownership.

In other years, there might have been talk about how much the team achieved this season. But not this year. Not with Clippers owner Donald Sterling brushing up against the luxury tax for the first time. Not with Paul looking deep inside himself and the organization for signs that this really is the place he wants to be for the next five years. Not with the Los Angeles Lakers in the midst of some righteous dysfunction.

No, things are different now. And you know, maybe this pain and frustration really is the final piece of evidence for those still on the fence about whether the Clippers really have changed their ways.

"This is terrible," Paul said. "I've got a lot of time to think, I'll tell you that much. Try to figure out what we could've done more in this series. But Game 6, we decided to come to the fight. Game 6 with our backs against the wall? That's too late."

Last year when the Clippers were swept out of the playoffs in the second round by the San Antonio Spurs, Paul was just as disappointed. That's how he is. He thinks he should win every game, every year.

It hurt others, too. But not the way it does now.

Last year was their first year together. Last year, you could be happy with a nice showing in the playoffs. Last year, signs of progress and potential felt good.

Now those same signs just twist the knife a bit deeper.

"It's very frustrating," Griffin said. "Very frustrating."

Griffin sat at his locker with his badly swollen right ankle in an ice bath for nearly a half hour after the game. It was an injury severe enough that he shouldn't have been playing.

But he did anyway because of how much this game meant. To him. To the franchise. To his teammates.

"I told them to use me however you want," Griffin said. "I just wanted to play. I wanted to try and help."

Griffin wasn't himself in Games 5 and 6 after spraining his ankle in practice Monday. But that's not why the Clippers lost this series.

They lost because Memphis was better. They lost because they weren't good enough yet. They lost because something is still missing.

And when you get beat like that in this league, there are only two choices: Find a way to get better or try again next season.

We're about to find out if the Clippers really are different now.

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