It was so quiet in the Los Angeles Sports Arena, you could hear the "I Like Ike" buttons dropping to the floor.
Just when he had started to make an impact, there was newly acquired center Ike Austin on the floor in the second quarter, writhing in pain.
Another dark cloud over Clipperland. How typical.
But this time was different.
This time, a ray of light broke through the clouds.
This time, there was a happy ending for Coach Bill Fitch and his beleaguered troops.
Austin, shaking off the effects of a sprained left ankle, returned in the second half and so did his team, shaking off the doldrums of a seven-game losing streak to beat the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night, 117-108, in front of 7,786. The full extent of Austin's injury won't be known until X-rays are taken today, but it is not believed to be serious.
As for the win, OK, so it was only the Clippers' second victory in their last 17 games and just their 12th of the season in 56 games, leaving them buried at the bottom of the Pacific Division. And it came against a 76er team buried in its own division, the Atlantic, at 18-36.
No matter. On this night, the Clippers preferred to focus on:
* Fitch, who won his 939th game, breaking a tie for second place on the NBA all-time list with the Boston Celtics' Red Auerbach. The only man ahead of Fitch is Lenny Wilkens, who won his 1,091st Wednesday night when his Atlanta Hawks beat the Denver Nuggets, 112-88.
* Eric Piatkowski, who scored a career-high 27 points, including 13 in the third quarter. Piatkowski made seven of 13 from the field, including five of eight from beyond the three-point line. Piatkowski was perfect from the free-throw line, making all eight, including several clutch free throws at the end.
But the most important thing for the Clippers had to be the mere sight of Austin trudging back for the start of the second half.
His injury occurred with 4:06 remaining in the second quarter.
With the 76ers' Brian Shaw on the floor under the basket, Austin took a pass from Lamond Murray and went up, but got his leg caught up in Shaw and down Austin came, the 6-10, 270-pounder hitting the floor with a thud that unleashed memories of countless nightmares from the Clippers' past.
"The first thing I was thinking of was who I was going to get in there," Fitch said. "You just go on to the next guy.
"I was optimistic that we would get him back. We've already had our share of losing people."
Was Austin confident he'd be back as he limped off?
"No question," he said as he soaked the ankle after the game. "I think it's a minor sprain."
Austin still played 37 minutes, scoring 19 points and getting a game-high 12 rebounds.
Austin may make his presence known in the scoring and rebounding columns, but his presence on the floor makes a difference.
Two examples in the fourth quarter illustrate that point.
First, Piatkowski put up a three-point attempt that missed. But Austin got the rebound, Piatkowski got the ball back, and, on his second try, made the three-point shot.
At another point, Darrick Martin launched a three-point shot that missed. But Austin was again there for the rebound. This time, he put it back in himself.
The "I Like Ike" buttons popping up all over the Sports Arena are meant to show Austin the Clippers want him to stay.
After Wednesday night, there's no need for a button to get the message across.