This will not be sweeps week for the Clippers, their ratings suddenly boosted with a Tuesday prime-time performance.
How much longer they will run before cancellation remains to be seen. But for one night, for the first time in the best-of-five series, it was their show, a 98-88 victory over the Utah Jazz before 14,086 at the Sports Arena in Game 3 to avoid elimination in the first-round series.
"We weren't worried about getting swept," said Clipper Ken Norman, who had 10 points and 10 rebounds. "We know we are a good home team. They (the Jazz) protected their court the first two games. Now, we're halfway home to doing the same thing. It was a good win for us because we're not packing."
The Clippers never trailed after 15-14. They increased their lead to 16 in the fourth quarter, 77-61, on Doc Rivers' three-pointer with 10:27 left and his two free throws with 9:31 remaining.
Rivers continued in the spotlight. When he stole the ball from John Stockton just inside midcourt and went for a dunk, the Clippers were up by 18, 81-63.
The biggest advantage was 19, 84-65, but the Jazz followed that with 10 unanswered points to keep things interesting, highlighted by back-to-back three-pointers by Stockton. Jeff Malone connected from the left baseline to make it 84-75 and forced the Clippers into a timeout.
But the rally fizzled. The Clippers, who shot 53.4% and had all five starters score in double figures, put the game away with another run to make it 98-82 in the final minutes.
"This shows us that we are getting better through the playoffs," Charles Smith said. "We're making some gradual changes from the first games to now, and that will only help us the next games."
Especially since the Clippers now know they \o7 have \f7 a next game.
"I think the guys really stepped up," James Edwards said. "It just took us two games to realize how to play playoff basketball."
In the series opener Friday at Salt Lake City, fireworks were shot from the main overhead scoreboard and above both 24-second clocks in pregame festivities. In the first game at the Sports Arena, the fireworks were reserved for the court.
A series that got physical in Game 2 Sunday got its first sign of true bad blood with 56 seconds left in the first quarter. It was in the heavyweight division, too: 7-foot-1, 252-pound Edwards and 6-10, 260-pound Mike Brown.
After Brown was called for an offensive foul, the two remained tightly clinched under the basket near the Clipper bench. When they held each other by the neck and exchanged minor shoves, teammates tried to cut in. When the reserve centers, and others, spilled over the baseline and into the first few rows of seats, coaches came to help restore order.
"The thing they're trying to do is intimidate us, and we can't step back from that," Edwards said. "We always play physical with them, elbows and everything by both teams. Sooner or later, something was bound to happen."
Said Brown: "Basically, I went to the basket and he fouled me. He held onto me a lot longer than I thought he should."
That's as ugly as it got, partly, perhaps, because Brown took a seat with his second foul. He and Edwards also both received technicals.
The Clippers led, 24-19, at the end of the first quarter. In the second, they drove inside with regularity despite the presence of Mark Eaton and pushed it to 42-32 on Loy Vaught's jumper from the right side.
When Vaught tipped in a miss by Ron Harper the next possession, the lead was 12 with 1:58 left in the second quarter. It was 47-36 at the break, and Harper had 12 points and eight rebounds for the Clippers en rote to 16 and 12, respectively.
Utah, 18-23 away from home during the regular season, pulled within 50-45 in the third quarter, but the Clippers built the lead back to 10, 68-58, with 1:13 left. They were up 70-61 heading into the fourth quarter.
Danny Manning had 17 points to lead the Clippers. Karl Malone had 22 points and 10 rebounds for the Jazz. John Stockton added 20 points and 13 assists. . . . Utah's Jeff Malone was in the starting lineup, despite a sprained ankle he suffered Sunday. "Certain shots I didn't shoot well all night," Malone said after going five of 15 for 11 points. "I didn't shoot a runner all night, and I couldn't really plant that well. It took me out of the game a little bit." . . . The Clippers, last in the league in regular-season home attendance at an average of 12,200, did not sell out their first postseason game at the Sports Arena. Approximately 2,000 tickets remained an hour before tipoff. . . . Thursday's Game 4 will start at 7:30. Some 4,000 tickets remain for that.