SEATTLE — There were only three seconds left on the shot clock and nobody open inside, so Junior Bridgeman had no other choice but to hoist a 20-foot jump shot with 26 seconds left and the Clippers clinging to a one-point lead over the Seattle SuperSonics Saturday night.
Still, the Clipper guard hesitated a moment before shooting. And, as the ball sailed toward the basket, Bridgeman nervously hopped as he awaited the outcome.
"I was thinking what Brian Winters told me when I first came into the league 11 years ago," Bridgeman said. "The ball is either going to go in or come out, so just shoot it and see what happens."
What happened was that Bridgeman's shot hit nothing but net, killing Seattle's comeback bid and giving the Clippers a three-point lead en route to a 111-106 victory before 9,078 at the Coliseum.
The win was significant in several respects to the Clippers (11-20), who have won three of their last six games.
Most important, it was only the third road win in 14 tries this season. Before Saturday, the Clippers had only won in Sacramento and had to eke out victories against the inauspicious Kings.
Also, the Clippers received unexpectedly strong play from their reserves. Trailing, 81-78, going into the fourth quarter, Coach Don Chaney went to the reserves and they responded in rare fashion. Led by Lancaster Gordon's nine fourth-quarter points and solid play from Benoit Benjamin, Rory White, Michael Cage and Franklin Edwards, the starters were handed a 97-92 lead with 5:04 left.
From that point, the Clippers struggled and came close to completely frittering away the lead. But Bridgeman, an outside-shooting specialist who has been firing blanks most of the season, saved the Clippers with several important plays.
First, he sank the 20-foot jumper which gave the Clippers a 108-105 lead with 25 seconds left. After a Seattle timeout, Bridgeman stole an inbound pass that was thrown off Al Wood's foot. He was subsequently fouled while driving to the basket and sank two free throws.
That gave the Clippers a 110-105 lead with 18 seconds left and snuffed out any hope the SuperSonics had of making it a four-game sweep over the Clippers this season.
Bridgeman finished with 20 points, tying his season high. He was supported by Marques Johnson's 19 points (13 in the first quarter) and 12 rebounds, Cedric Maxwell's 17 points and Kurt Nimphius' 18 points and 11 rebounds.
Nimphius' main contribution, though, came defensively. He blocked five shots and dominated the middle in the second half. In fact, both Nimphius and Benjamin had strong second halves, despite the fact that Seattle center Jack Sikma finished with 24 points and nine rebounds.
Sikma was the SuperSonics' primary offensive weapon, since forward Tom chambers fractured his right fibula and also partially tore ligaments in his ankle late in the first quarter. Chambers, who had 11 first-quarter points, had his leg placed in a cast and will be out at least six weeks.
Throughout the first half, Chaney pleaded with his players to rebound, mostly to no avail. Yet, despite being dominated on the boards, the Clippers managed to head to the locker room trailing, 56-55, at halftime.
Seattle maintained a comfortable 8-to-12-point lead most of the half, but a late Clipper rally forced the SuperSonics to fritter away the lead.
Al Wood's jumper with 2:10 left gave Seattle a 54-45 lead and it figured that the margin would remain the same. But Nimphius and Maxwell asserted themselves inside and it showed on the scoreboard.
Nimphius scored on an offensive rebound, followed by two Maxwell free throws to cut Seattle's lead to five (54-49). After Gerald Henderson hit a jump shot for the SuperSonics, Bridgeman scored inside and Maxwell sank two more free throws.
The final 26 seconds of the half may have been the Clippers' best.
Nimphius blocked a shot attempt by Xavier McDaniel, Seattle's excellent rookie forward, surprising even his teammates. Maxwell retrieved the ball before it went out of bounds and initiated a fast break. Nimphius hustled down court and finished the break with a twisting layup with two seconds to play.
For a chance, the Clippers played well at the start, leading 12-6 four minutes into the game, and the end of the half. In between, though, the Clippers were sluggish and timid.
Seattle held only a 26-24 rebounding advantage, but the Clippers let the SuperSonics dominate the offensive boards.
The only Clipper who played consistently well in the first half was Johnson. He made his first six shots and had 12 of the Clippers' first 20 points with the first six minutes. He finished the quarter with 13 points, his only miss coming at the free-throw line.
Johnson was held to only two points in the second quarter, but that's when Maxwell picked up the slack. Maxwell had nine points in the second quarter--seven coming from the free throw line--and four assists.
The Clippers return home today for Monday night's game against the Boston Celtics at the Sports Arena, which will be Bill Walton's first regular season appearance in Los Angeles since the Clippers traded him to Boston for Cedric Maxwell . . . Expect fines to result from Maxwell's brief scuffle with Philadelphia's Charles Barkley last Thursday at the Sports Arena . . . Seattle Saturday activated forward Frank Brickowski, who had been on the injured list the entire season with ligament damage in his right wrist. The SuperSonics had been going with only 11 players.