Up leaps Lamond Murray and the score is 20-10, Clippers, and pretty soon up pops Malik Sealy and the score is 40-18, Clippers, until eventually the Lakers' home crowd begins booing the Lakers , whose spokesperson, Chick Hearn, dutifully reports the score to his TV and radio audiences and then adds: "This is not an April Fool's story, folks."
And before long Loy Vaught lays one in to make the score 51-28, Clippers, and then just before halftime Pooh Richardson pumps from three-point land and swishes one to make the score 63-35, Clippers, and one of the Lakers fumbles the basketball out of bounds and Hearn turns to his partner, Stu Lantz, to ask: "How did this team lose 16 in a row?"
To which Stu responds: "They didn't play against an uninspired Laker team, I guess."
Talk about a turnabout. Here we have the Lakers, who have been giving us such solid basketball for weeks. And here we have the Clippers, who have been serving up NBA Lite. And who is beating whom? Correction: Who is pounding whom? Who is mopping up the Forum floor with the Lakers, laughing from the bench and bumping elbows and Arsenio'ing with their wrists? The boys of winter themselves, the Clippers.
How do we apologize to an entire basketball team? Making fun of the Clippers seemed such good sport. We forget that they are flesh and bone. We forget that if a Clipper is pricked, does he not bleed? Most of all, we forget that it is not the Clippers' fault that they are weak. What they lack is skill, not desire.
Into town they had come, the messengers of doom, from magazines and TV networks, everyone this side of Connie Chung, to tell the world about this drive-by basketball team from Los Angeles that couldn't shoot straight. Some of the players understood. Others tried to tune it out. One of the Clipper announcers carped about "incredible negativity" from the media, as though after that 16th consecutive loss, the next morning's headline should have read: CLIPPERS LOSE AGAIN, BUT SURE DO TRY HARD.
Yes. OK. We sympathize.
"We don't normally attract that sort of national attention," says the good-natured Vaught, making the best of a bad situation.
"But. . . . "
But what, Loy? Something on your mind?
"Well, look. They \o7 wanted \f7 to see us keep losing, if truth be told. It made it a better story. But see, that's not our job. Our job is snapping streaks and winning games. That's what we want. We want them writing what we want to read."
Makes sense. This is a perfectly understandable reaction. Only, remember this, everybody: We also would have been there if they had \o7 won\f7 16 in a row. That's a story too. It isn't about negativity. We would be perfectly happy to serve you up a little positivity, if there be such a word. We don't poke fun at teams that go 16-0. We poke fun at teams that go 0-16.
Except, not tonight.
Not as the second half begins with a layin by Sealy and a couple of free throws by Tony Massenburg until the score is 67-35, Clippers. Whereupon we see the Lakers at their absolute worst, an airball by Nick Van Exel and a technical foul on Antonio Harvey for taunting and a pass from Vlade Divac to an invisible teammate and a couple of passes from Eddie Jones to nobody in particular.
And all a disappointed Chick Hearn can do is sit there asking, in all honesty: "Am I reading this incorrectly, Stu, or are the Lakers, on both ends of the floor, totally out of sync?"
To which Lantz can only agree: "Oh, yeah. Totally out of sync."
But it isn't only the Lakers who are doing everything wrong but the Clippers who are doing everything right. Richardson has double-figure assists, and Vaught has double-figure rebounds and the whole starting lineup has double-figure points. Sealy feels so loose that he uncorks 25 shots. He is dominating the Lakers so thoroughly, you would think he stole their playbook.
It feels so good for a change to go to the dressing room proud of yourself, to be unafraid of what anyone will say, to your face or behind your back.
Sealy suppresses a smile when reminded that he was the one, after the victory virgins finally won their first game, who had said: "If we go 66-0 the rest of the way, maybe you guys will write about that! Ha, ha, ha!"
Felt so good, didn't it?
"Well, you've got to have something to laugh about, don't you?" Sealy asked.
The fourth quarter has a nervous moment or two. But then Eric Piatkowski tips one in to make the score 97-79, Clippers, and then Randy Woods dumps a running jumper and the final score ends up 109-84, Clippers, and there isn't anything that the Lakers can do except feel lousy, and Chick Hearn is saying, "There isn't much you can say about this but, 'I'm sorry.' "
The Clippers, though, have plenty to say.
Vaught feels so good about what just happened, he actually says, "We feel we're capable of beating any other team in the league. We are doing all the things that are conducive to winning."
Says Sealy: "Even our friends talked about us, just like the people not our friends. We had to get that off our chests. And we have."
The worst is over.
Being a Clipper no longer means having to say you're sorry.