T.J. SIMERS

Aside from Chris Paul, it's the same old Clippers

The point guard finished with 35 points and six rebounds. It's too bad his sense of responsibility wasn't contagious.

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I so wish I could watch Chris Paul continue to play basketball and show everyone what a mighty competitor he is.

But I fear the absolute worst.

One more Clippers collapse, and that appears to be a certainty come Friday, and the basketball season is over.

And you know what that means?

We have to start paying attention to the Dodgers and Angels.

Or worse. Icing.

The NBA playoffs were not about winning a championship, but getting us deep into June without having to watch Joe Blanton pitch or listening to Charley Steiner describe an underachieving team's performance.

Sure, it was the Clippers' chance to attract some fans now that the exit interviews are over, but why should we be surprised they blew such an opportunity?

They are still the Clippers, and they better hope Paul doesn't leave as a free agent, or they really will be still the Clippers.

What a shocking waste of what should be such a wonderful story. It's a good thing Clippers fans are so experienced in handling disappointment.

But name any great Laker and Paul gave that kind of performance in Game5. He was the Clippers' leading scorer and rebounder late in the game, playing with the kind of resolve that makes him so special.

When asked about the disappointment of the loss, Paul even took all of the blame. "It's on me," said Paul, who finished with 35 points. "I have to do a better job of getting everyone involved."

Too bad Paul's sense of responsibility wasn't contagious.

All that manly talk about being punked, and the Clippers rolled over dead in one of the franchise's biggest games.

Now maybe the Clippers didn't have a shot after Blake Griffin sprained an ankle in Monday's practice. There was serious thought given to not starting Griffin, who played as hard and as competitively as he could before sitting out the fourth quarter.

That meant for much of the game the Clippers did not have a power forward or starting center. DeAndre Jordan was healthy, but just a waste of space.

Jamal Crawford continued to struggle getting his shot, Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups were once again missing in action and soon Coach Vinny Del Negro might follow.

What a wonderful season it promised to be, the Clippers beating these Grizzlies in the seventh game of the playoffs a year ago and beginning the regular season with yet another pulsating win over Memphis.

And then 17 wins in a row and talk about the Clippers turning the corner. Who knew it was fool's gold?

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