DETROIT — No, the Clippers did not end their three-week-old losing streak here Monday night. The Detroit Pistons made it 10 straight by handing the Clippers a 121-114 loss before 10,281 fans at Cobo Arena.
But, for a change, the Clippers actually played well enough to win. And that fact was cause for unbridled optimism among Clipper players, who have been searching for positive things to say.
"I wish we could start the season over again," center James Donaldson said. "We know now we've got the tools to win. We haven't done it yet, but when everybody learns the new system we're going to win some games. It's just a little late to do anything about this season."
Even interim Coach Don Chaney, who says he doesn't want his players to be satisfied with anything less but victories, managed to crack a smile afterward.
"They played better tonight," said Chaney, who is 0-4 after replacing Jim Lynam last week. "I think we got the effort from every guy on the team. If we play like that every night, we are going to win some games."
One can only speculate when the Clippers will finally win a game for Chaney, not to mention themselves. Most likely, it won't happen Wednesday night when they meet the Philadelphia 76ers, but maybe Thursday night against Indiana.
Almost no one figured that the Clippers' streak would end against Detroit, which was playing its first game in Cobo Arena since 1978. The Pistons were forced out of the Pontiac Silverdome last week when portions of the roof caved in, and they rescheduled their games at Joe Louis Arena. But a rock concert was scheduled there Monday, so it was back to cramped Cobo.
Midway through the third quarter, the fans at Cobo serenaded the Pistons with boos after the Clippers opened a 73-60 lead. The Clippers, who led by 11 at halftime, were effectively employing the running game and trapping on defense--everything Chaney has asked them to do.
By the end of the quarter, though, the score was tied, 89-89, and the Pistons pulled away the fourth quarter to avoid the embarrassment of losing to the NBA's worst team for the second half of the season.
Detroit's fourth-quarter domination was a combination of the Clippers' fatigue after running for three quarters and the strong play turned in by Kelly Tripucka, Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer.
Tripucka, slowed recently with an ankle injury, came off the bench to score 12 straight points in the fourth quarter to bury the Clippers. He finished with 22 points, hitting 9 of 13 shots. Laimbeer led the Pistons with 28 points (14 of 18), while Thomas added 16 points and 20 assists.
Derek Smith, who has been on a tear lately, led the Clippers with 29 points, 18 in the first half. Junior Bridgeman added 21 points and Marques Johnson had 18. Monday's performance was a vast improvement over Johnson's previous two games, in which he scored 8 and 6 points, respectively.
As well as the Clippers played in stretches Monday, Chaney still says they are not in shape.
"I've seen a fraction of improvement," Chaney said. "We still have lapses defensively. Guys are not alert and they get caught out of position. Plus, they still aren't in the type of shape we need to run the entire game. I expect these things to be minimized in the next few games."
According to Smith, all the Clippers need to make a startling transformation is time to learn Chaney's system and perhaps rest a bit.
"I would love to have a week off where we could do nothing but practice," Smith said. "But, eventually, we'll come around."
Guard Franklin Edwards was signed Monday and scored three points in two minutes. Edwards has been with the club for three days but hadn't signed because of contract problems. He replaces Bryan Warrick, who was waived last week. . . . For trivia buffs, the last NBA game at Cobo Arena was April 9, 1978, when the Pistons beat the Denver Nuggets, 139-137. Denver's David Thompson, who was locked in a battle with San Antonio's George Gervin for the scoring title on the final day of the season, scored 73 points that night but was edged out by Gervin, who scored 63 later that night.