If the Clippers expected an easy night Friday, as many teams do when they play Golden State, they surely must have forgotten the many forgettable times that they have played just as badly as the Warriors.
On this night, however, the Clippers played a tad worse against those struggling Warriors and lost, 125-123, before 7,824 fans, most of whom filed out of the Sports Arena in silence after Rory White's desperate and futile three-point attempt fell a foot short of the rim.
An inexplicably poor night for the Clippers, who had won three of their four previous games, ended with an equally inexplicable final possession that could have sent the game to overtime.
The Clippers, down 125-123 after a successful baseline jumper by Warrior guard Terry Teagle, had the ball with 27 seconds to play and tried to feed Marques Johnson for a game-tying shot.
Johnson, posting near the free-throw line, appeared to be open for a lob pass, but point guard Norm Nixon continued to dribble under heavy defensive pressure. Eventually, Johnson got the ball, but it was at the top of the key with time running out. So, Johnson passed to White, the only open player, in the corner and waited for him to shoot a 20-foot jumper.
Instead, White took one dribble and two steps back behind the three-point shot line and went for an unplanned three-point attempt. The shot missed by a foot.
"It was a bad decision," said White, who made some good decisions earlier on his way to a game-high 26 points. "I went back to three-point land and I thought the shot was good when I first released it. Maybe if I had stepped in a foot or drove to the basket . . . "
Maybe if White had used better judgment, Clipper Coach Don Chaney would not have spent the next 15 minutes hitting himself in the leg in frustration. But then, Chaney was upset at his team's play long before that.
"This kind of game can kill a coach," said Chaney, who took out many frustrations in a high-decibel postgame talk with his players. "I call it playing with fire. We came out (just) to play them, not to take it to them. You have to go out and face Golden State like they are a top team, not on the bottom.
"Although their record is poor, they always come to play."
On nights such as this, Chaney doesn't know what his players come to the Sports Arena to do. Certainly, their performance Friday night didn't resemble quality basketball.
Chaney said that his team had been warned about letting down against the 18-40 Warriors, who entered the game with the worst record in the National Basketball Assn. He also told them to disregard the fact that Golden State had won only 2 of 28 road games.
What the Clippers (21-34) did, instead, was play to Golden State's level, which really isn't plunging that far if the truth is told.
"It's a natural for (players) to look at the record," Chaney said. "But this team has beaten the Lakers. They may not have a good record, but they never give up. This game really hurt. We really needed it. Now, it's an uphill battle for us."
Chaney was talking about the Clippers' annual quest for the eighth (and final) Western Conference playoff spot. Friday's loss put the Clippers 2 1/2 games behind Sacramento and 1 1/2 behind Phoenix for the last playoff berth.
Although the Clippers still have more than a month of the season left, they are staring at a tough four-game trip that begins Sunday in New York and includes stops at Milwaukee, Detroit and Boston.
"We've got to play superb basketball from now on to stay in it," Chaney said.
The action Friday was far from superb. Warrior Coach John Bach noticed it, too.
"I think both teams have played a lot of games like this," he said. "They gave us life. When you give a team life, you give them a chance to battle back. One man's luck is another man's misfortune."
At various stages Friday night, the Clippers had the Warriors down but, it turned out, not quite out. The Clippers saw a nine-point lead quickly evaporate in the first half and dutifully lost leads of five and four points in the game's final five minutes.
The Clippers, seemingly, were in a good position to win it after White converted a layup to make it 122-119, Clippers, with 2:03 left. Even that did not come easily. White scored only after Johnson nearly had the ball stripped and literally sat in the lane with the ball before finding White open underneath.
But the Warriors cut the margin to one when Larry Smith scored on a tip-in after Golden State had three previous shots at close range.
From that point, jump shots by Eric (Sleepy) Floyd and Teagle did in the Clippers, whose only point in the final 1:22 came on a Cedric Maxwell free throw.
Teagle, who had lost his starting job to Chris Mullin earlier this season, scored 22 points off the bench for the Warriors. Purvis Short and Joe Barry Carroll each added 21 points. Carroll had 12 rebounds, while Smith added 11.