The Los Angeles Clippers' loss to the Sacramento Kings last night was unlikely in more ways than one. Beyond the fact that a perpetual playoff team lost to a directionless team still reeling from the loss of its franchise player, there was also the fact that late in the fourth quarter, the Clippers victory was all but assured. No, seriously, they had a 100 percent chance of winning, and they still lost.
With 4:33 remaining in the 4th quarter, the Clippers led the Kings 94-78, and at that point, their win probability was 99.9 percent, but if you round the decimals up, it was actually closer to 100.0 percent. Even when the Kings made it 94-80 a half minute later, they were still at that 100 percent win probability. For comparison's sake, when the Falcons led the Patriots 28-3 late in the third quarter of the Super Bowl, their win probability was 99.7. So, as gruesome as the Falcons collapse was, the Clippers choke job last night was actually worse, at least in a purely mathematical sense. Basically, there was a remote chance that the Kings could win, but it was so remote as to be numerically irrelevant. And yet, they still managed to eek out a victory.
With 2:10 left, the Kings had narrowed the margin to 96-93 after a Buddy Hield three-pointer, but the Clippers still had a 93.6 percent chance of hanging on. The collapse just got worse and worse, however, as a Langston Galloway three narrowed the margin to 97-96. Even at this point, the Clippers were still considered to have an 85 percent chance of winning. It's hard to know the exact precision of numbers like this, but the idea remains that even after the Kings had closed the gap from 16 points to one, the odds still pointed toward the Clippers surviving. That would not be the case, however, as they simply couldn't get a bucket. They wasted one possession with a shot clock violation, and Chris Paul missed a jumper during another. Ultimately, it was a Willie Cauley-Stein put back that put the Kings on top for a 98-97 win.
This isn't the first time the Clippers blew a massive lead, of course. Two years ago, in Game 5 of their second round series against the Houston Rockets, they had a 97 percent chance of winning, and still came up short. This was with James Harden riding the bench, and the Clippers up 3-1 in the series. We know what happened next; the Rockets came back without their superstar, and took the next two games as well. That gruesome collapse cost the Clippers their best shot at finally getting past the second round of the Western Conference playoffs.
The Clippers are in a tight spot right now; Paul and Blake Griffin can both leave in free agency at the end of the season, and there's a notion hanging in the air that if the Clippers don't finally make a deep run, we might see one or more of their big three playing elsewhere next season. These playoffs will be a massive test for the Clippers, and right now, things aren't looking too good. If they can't hang on to a 16-point lead with four minutes left against a team whose best player might actually be Buddy Hield, it's hard to imagine them being much of a threat against the Spurs or the Warriors.