In basketball, the heavyweight champions of heartbreak, the sultans of being swatted, and the kings of comedy have historically been the Los Angeles Clippers. The Paper Clips.
This is a franchise that was born in Buffalo, originally known as the Buffalo Braves in the early 1970s before relocating to a place with remarkably better weather in San Diego in 1978. The team changed its name to the Clippers, after the sleek sailing ships popular in Southern California and not the device you use to cut your nails with.
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Through it all, the Clippers have been generally terrible for most of their existence. But on Thursday night, they were mere minutes from posting the greatest win in franchise history, capitalizing on a second-round series victory against Houston, and vaulting Lob City to the conference finals for the first time in the team’s wretched 45-year history.
And then the Clippers did what the Clippers do. They blew it.
A 19-point lead late in the third quarter with the series on the line melted away faster than the villains’ faces in Raiders of the Lost Ark, freezing any celebrations that were about to take place on their home court, and sending the Clippers back to Houston for a decisive Game 7.
Not just the series is on the line Sunday in Houston. Along with their hopes of keeping their season alive, the Clippers will carry the fortunes of their star-crossed franchise as they search for the anecdote to one of the most poisonous hexes in professional sports. Win, and the Clippers will breathe the rarefied air of playing for the Western Conference crown, and a chance to move on to the NBA Finals. Lose, and it will be the Same Old Clippers for another excruciating season, one that’s possibly more painful than any other in franchise history.
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Because the Clippers were so close. They were up 12 points with eight minutes left in Game 6 against Houston. It was a Heimlich-worthy choke, right up there with some of the worst losses in sports history:
* Jan. 3, 1993 on the Houston Oilers blew a 35-3 second-half lead against Buffalo in the AFC Wild Card Game. The Bills comeback remains the greatest in NFL history.
* In a November 1996 NBA regular season game, the Utah Jazz overcame a 36-point third-quarter deficit to topple the Denver Nuggets, 107-103.
* On June 15, 1925, the Indians blew a 15-4 eighth-inning lead to the Phillies in a mind-blowing 17-15 loss.
* The Seattle Mariners coughed up a 12-run lead with nine outs to go in a loss against Cleveland on Aug. 5, 2001.
* Wayne Gretzky’s powerful Edmonton Oilers blew a 5-0 third-period lead against the Los Angeles Kings in 1982 en route to a 6-5 loss in overtime. Gretzky admitted after the game that he and his teammates were laughing at the Kings before the comeback started.
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