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Final-Quarter Spurt Lifts Clippers Over Rebuilt Rockets, 98-92

December 18, 1987|CHRIS BAKER | Times Staff Writer

The new-look Houston Rockets don't look as good as the old-look ones.

The Rockets, who acquired center Joe Barry Carroll and guard Eric (Sleepy) Floyd from the Golden State Warriors in exchange for Ralph Sampson and guard Steve Harris last Saturday, haven't had time to blend the newcomers into their lineup.

The Rockets blew an 11-point fourth-quarter lead and lost to the Clippers, 98-92, Thursday night before 6,519 fans at the Sports Arena.

Houston (11-10) is winless in two games since the trade. The Clippers (8-12) broke a two-game losing streak.

"It's tough to add players on a road trip," Clipper Coach Gene Shue said of Carroll and Floyd, who made their debut for Houston Wednesday night in a 132-113 loss at Denver. "This was an ideal time for us to play them. Houston will have a sound basketball team once they put everything together.

"The game didn't look winnable, but we kept making comebacks. That was quite a display of defense. It seemed as if we were always down 10 points. Toward the end, when we were down by three, I told the players that they had to make this run work because they wouldn't get another chance."

Guard Mike Woodson led the Clippers with 28 points, including 8 in the fourth period as Los Angeles outscored Houston, 23-13.

Forward Michael Cage had a career-high 23 rebounds, 15 in the first half. He also scored 13 points and blocked 3 shots.

"I didn't know how many rebounds I had," Cage said. "I don't worry about numbers, just getting the rebounds.

"Tonight was an indication of how good we can be. It's still early in the season, but this is encouraging for me. They beat us for 3 1/2 quarters, but in the fourth, they didn't score too much.

"I didn't see much difference in the 'new' Rockets. They have a nice team shaping up, but obviously their timing is off."

Clipper center Benoit Benjamin, who had been in a slump, was an intimidating force in the middle down the stretch, holding his own against Rocket center Akeem Olajuwon and adding a pair of key blocks in the fourth period that helped the Clippers hang on for the win. He scored 13 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked 6 shots.

"This was the best I've played Akeem," Benjamin said. "I had to front him at the post. If he gets the ball down low, he's very good."

Olajuwon led the Rockets with 22 points, 14 rebounds and 5 blocked shots before fouling out.

"We missed a lot of easy shots and layups," Olajuwon said. "I feel good about J.B. and Sleepy. I'm not going to look back. I don't think it will take too long to get adjusted."

Rodney McCray added 17 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, and Purvis Short came off the bench to score 16. Jim Petersen added 13 points.

Floyd had just 6 points and 6 assists. Carroll scored 4 points but didn't have a rebound in 14 minutes.

"I welcomed the trade," said Carroll, who had been criticized by Warrior Coach George Karl for being out of shape. "George has always been irresponsible in his statements and behavior. . . . It will take awhile for me and Sleepy to make the adjustments here."

Said Floyd: "We've played two games without practice."

Rocket Coach Bill Fitch said it will take time for Floyd and Carroll to adjust to the trade.

"I can do a better job than I did tonight," Fitch said. "Sleepy Floyd will play a lot better than he did tonight. We wouldn't have made the trade to have a game like we did last night and tonight."

The Clippers were down, 89-78, with 9:19 left in the game before they made their move.

Guard Larry Drew was instrumental in the comeback, scoring 9 of his 14 points in the final period.

The Clippers went on a 12-1 spurt to tie, 90-90, with 3:55 left when Benjamin made a free throw after being fouled by Olajuwon.

After the Rockets responded with Petersen's bank shot to take a 92-90 lead, Drew took over for the Clippers.

He scored four straight points on a 20-foot jumper and a flashy reverse layup with 1:35 left to give Los Angeles a 94-92 lead. Drew was fouled by Rocket guard Allen Leavell after the second shot and he made the free throw to give the Clippers a five-point lead.

"I started left, then I reversed and went to the right," Drew said of his layup. "You don't practice those kinds of shots."

The Rockets failed to score on their next possession as Olajuwon, McCray and Petersen missed shots from close range.

The Clippers couldn't buy a basket at the other end, but they kept coming up with offensive rebounds to maintain possession, and the Rockets fouled guard Quintin Dailey in frustration with 23 seconds remaining. He made one of two free throws to give Los Angeles a 96-92 lead.

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