The dog days of an NBA season can be challenging for a team like the Clippers, who seemingly were out of the playoff picture in training camp. But they appear to enjoy playing the role of spoiler over the final weeks of the season.
The Houston Rockets, who had defeated the Clippers nine consecutive times and are battling the Lakers for first-round homecourt advantage in the playoffs, felt the Clippers' bite Friday night at the Sports Arena.
After losing a 19-point fourth quarter lead and needing a desperation three-point basket from Troy Hudson at the end of regulation, the Clippers came through in overtime with a 106-101 victory before 13,855.
Maurice Taylor had a career-high 29 points and grabbed eight rebounds, Eric Piatkowski added 28 points and Tyrone Nesby had his second career double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Clippers (8-35), who ended a three-game losing streak.
"This is a huge win for us. We beat a team with three of the best players of all-time [in Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen and Hakeem Olajuwon]," said Taylor, who made 13 of 21 shots from the field. "I mean to lose a 19-point lead and then hang on and send it into overtime is a huge boost for our confidence.
"All we can do is try and play spoiler now and take games away from teams still trying to make the playoffs."
For three quarters, Barkley and Pippen struggled. Taylor was making jump shots and acrobatic layups and Nesby was adding tip-ins as the Clippers opened a 19-point lead early in the fourth quarter.
But Barkley and Pippen know how to get a team back into a game and they helped the Rockets do it with defense. Houston attacked the Clippers and forced them into nine turnovers in the fourth quarter with Barkley getting four steals and Pippen two.
With 1:08 remaining in regulation, Houston trailed, 86-85, after a three-point basket by Olajuwon. After a missed jump shot by Sherman Douglas, the Rockets took an 87-86 lead on a jump shot by Pippen over Nesby in the left corner.
After Douglas missed another jump shot with 13.9 seconds left in regulation, Barkley made two free throws to put Houston ahead, 89-86. That set up Hudson's heroics as he came off a pick set by Piatkowski and made his three-point basket with nine seconds left in regulation.
In overtime, the Clippers took control after a dunk by Taylor and late free throws by Piatkowski and Hudson.
"It was a great effort from us in that we were able to bounce back," said Clipper Coach Chris Ford, whose team had lost its previous three games partly because of missed shots in the final seconds.
"Troy had the kind of look he had in Vancouver [when he missed a late three-point attempt in a loss Wednesday] but he stepped up and knocked down the shot."
Taylor, who has easily been the team's most valuable player, put on a show in the third quarter with 12 points. In his one-on-one matchup against Barkley, Taylor made the veteran Rocket look like a 36-year-old forward for three quarters.
Taylor, a second-year forward from Michigan, continues to impress with his ability to score whenever he can avoid being double-teamed. Houston paid that price in the third quarter when Taylor made six of nine shots and helped the Clippers break open a tight game.