DENVER — Flu victim Doc Rivers was sick at halftime and fell asleep in the Clippers' locker room. He tried to watch the overtime from the sideline but lasted only a few minutes before heading back inside.
"I could hear the announcer," Rivers said. "It was really neat to hear 'Grant for three' and 'Grant for two.' I could tell by the crowd noise how things were going. There wasn't too much at the end of OT. That was a great sound--the quiet."
Gary Grant, Rivers' replacement, forced the silence by hitting two key shots and scoring five of his team-high 20 points in overtime as the Clippers defeated the Denver Nuggets, 102-100, Friday night before 10,697 at McNichols Arena.
Grant had lost his starting job to Rivers on Nov. 24 and struggled with flu and a strained groin. He had averaged only 15 minutes in his previous five appearances but played 30 against the Nuggets. Twenty-one of those minutes came in the second half and overtime, when Grant made all four of his shots and scored 12 points.
Two shots were bigger than all the rest. First, with the Clippers behind, 98-95, he connected on the three-pointer, a 24-footer from the right side with 1:54 left in overtime. Then, after Reggie Williams put the Nuggets back ahead with two free throws for the last of his game-high 24 points, Grant responded again.
With defender Winston Garland charging at him in hopes of at least getting a hand up, Grant hit another from the right side, this time a two-pointer with 56 seconds remaining. The game was tied, 100-100.
"It felt good," he said. "I hadn't done anything for a while, the five or six games of playing 12 minutes or 10 minutes. But I got the opportunity today, and I showed I can play and help the team win."
Said Coach Mike Schuler: "The game was on the line, and he really came up big. He defended well, took care of the ball and made some big shots. A heck of a game."
The winning points were supplied by Ron Harper, who had tossed an air ball on a layup two possessions earlier.
The ball simply flew out of Harper's hands when he was alone for the one-footer that missed by two. Given the chance for redemption--and for the Clippers to win their third in a row and fourth in six tries--he went to the free-throw line with 17 seconds to go after being fouled by Mark Macon.
In the 100-100 game, Harper made both free throws. His 48 minutes were the most by any Clipper this season, his last two shots some of the most important.
"I was calm," he insisted. "I figured I had missed two threes and missed an easy layup, what else could go wrong? I had shot free throws pretty well the last few games, so I knew they were going in. I knew it."
Denver's final chance to avoid having its winning streak halted at three was a disaster of rookie proportions. Dikembe Mutombo got the ball on the left post, put his shoulder down and tried to bull through three Clippers to get across the lane.
He lost possession, saying he had had been fouled. The Clippers recovered the loose ball and escaped with their second road victory.
Charles Smith said his right knee was sore after Wednesday's game against San Antonio, but that was expected after his first appearance of the season. Otherwise, the news on the joint that underwent arthroscopic surgery Oct. 19 is all very favorable. "The knee is not going to give him any problems," trainer Keith Jones said. "In fact, that knee is 5% stronger than the other leg because of his rehabilitation." Jones added Smith's knee is stronger now than at the start of training camp. . . . No return date has been set for Bo Kimble, out because of a stress reaction in his left foot, but he has informally targeted Dec. 15 against Orlando at home or Dec. 17 at Seattle. . . . Coach Mike Schuler stayed with his familiar lineup and kept Loy Vaught at power forward with Smith in reserve for at least one more game. Smith scored 13 points in 28 minutes.