Derek Smith is nicknamed Rock by his Clipper teammates because his body is supposedly as hard as one. But Smith also has been the club's only rock of stability in an otherwise erratic and disappointing season.
Thursday night at the Sports Arena, Smith was steady as always, scoring 34 points to lead the Clippers to a 116-110 win over the Phoenix Suns before a crowd of 8,705.
Although it took two crucial jump shots by Norm Nixon and two free throws by Junior Bridgeman in the final minute to hold off the Suns, Smith was largely responsible for getting the Clippers in position to win. Coming within one point of equaling his career high, Smith scored 14 points in the fourth quarter (24 in the second half) to save the Clippers when they showed signs of wavering.
Except for Monday night's 18-point performance in the Clippers' dismal 21-point loss to Portland, Smith has scored more than 20 points in every game since mid-February. So, it shouldn't be surprising that he had another productive night after being held to two points in the first quarter under tight coverage by Jay Humphries and Michael Holton.
"I definitely have confidence in myself," Smith said. "I know the points are going to come. It's just a matter of time. Those guys were really concentrating on stopping me in the first half, but I knew things would open up in the second half."
Clipper interim Coach Don Chaney knew it, too, which is why he kept Smith on the court the entire second half.
"Derek is always on a mission for us," Chaney said. "He's an aggressive player who loves winning. You know he's always going to play hard for 48 minutes. He has something a lot of players will never have, and that's drive."
It apparently didn't matter to Smith that this was simply a late-season game that meant very little to the Clippers. After all, they will be officially eliminated from playoff contention any game now.
"I don't care if it's marbles," Smith said. "I play to win. I don't look at our record. It doesn't matter because I give it all every night."
Perhaps if all the Clippers had Smith's drive in every game, they wouldn't be in their current position. Perhaps not. But on this night, Chaney said he could not criticize the effort of any of his players.
"I have to congratulate our team for hanging in there (in the second half) and not folding," Chaney said. "Unlike the other night (the Portland loss), our defense and effort were superb."
Good efforts also came from Nixon, who had 20 points and 10 assists, as well as Marques Johnson and Bill Walton, who each had 15 points. Walton also contributed 10 rebounds in 28 minutes.
Phoenix was led by guard rookie Jay Humphries, who came off the bench to score 24 points (10 of 13 from the field). Maurice Lucas added 18 and Alvan Adams 15 before being ejected from the game with 9:25 left after a prolonged argument with referee JAke O'Donnell.
Adams' exit didn't help the Suns' comeback attempt any. The closest Phoenix came to catching the Clippers was three points (110-107) with 1:36 left.
Clipper Notes The Clippers will conclude the season series with the Suns Saturday night at Phoenix. The game will be televised on Channel 11 at 6:30 . . . Olympic gymnast Peter Vidmar will give a demonstration at halftime of Sunday night's Clipper-San Antonio game at the Sports Arena. . . . The Suns placed guard Walter Davis on the injured list with bone spurs, and he will also miss the playoffs. . . . Phoenix forward Larry Nance is eligible to come off the injured list today. He has been out with a a groin pull.