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Clippers Lift Spirits

Their 74-72 win over Detroit is ugly, but it's their first and they'll take it.

November 04, 2002|Elliott Teaford | Times Staff Writer

What, the Clippers worry? It's early in their season. There's no reason to panic. After all, there have only been a couple of dispiriting games, not 10 or 15 or 20.

All they needed was one victory -- no matter how ugly, no matter how improbable -- to give them a jolt of confidence.

All they needed was to hold the Detroit Pistons to four points in the final 7 minutes 13 seconds and wrestle a 74-72 victory from them Sunday afternoon in front of a crowd of 14,275 at Staples Center.

Now, was that so difficult?

"We needed a win in the worst way," Coach Alvin Gentry said with a smile that was more like a grimace after the Clippers' first victory in three games.

The Clippers made 22 of 69 shots (31.9%) and the Pistons made 26 of 81 (32.1%), which made for a brutal game. Suffocating defense played a role, but each team missed its share of open shots.

Clifford Robinson had a chance to give the Pistons a win and a 3-0 start, but his open three-point shot glanced off the rim at the final buzzer. Earlier, Corliss Williamson missed a chance to tie the score, when an alert Michael Olowokandi blocked his driving attempt with 48.7 seconds remaining, and Jon Barry's jumper from the left corner missed the mark with a little more than a minute left.

And so it went for the Pistons, whose only points in the final 7:13 came on Williamson's reverse layup that gave them a 70-66 lead and Richard Hamilton's jumper that put them up, 72-70, with 3:36 to play.

Olowokandi made a free throw, Corey Maggette converted a layup after Elton Brand took out a press-row TV monitor while saving a loose ball on the sideline, and Brand made a free throw.

The Clippers made a 74-72 lead stand up for the final 1:27.

"I don't think that's one of those games they'll put in a time capsule and lock up to show people 100 years from now," Gentry said.

An unlikely group got the Clippers their first victory in three games.

Desperate for a second-half spark, Gentry put guards Andre Miller, Keyon Dooling and Marko Jaric on the floor with Olowokandi and backup center Wang Zhizhi. With the Clippers down, 55-49, late in the third quarter, those five began to chip away at the deficit.

Jaric slipped a pretty pass to Olowokandi for a dunk, then made two free throws. Wang made a jump shot and Dooling made a three-pointer. Suddenly, the Clippers had their first lead of the game, and their first since leading the Lakers, 5-4, moments into their game Friday.

"Wang, Marko and Keyon gave us huge minutes," Olowokandi said. "It's all about opportunities. Those three gave us big minutes."

At the end, Gentry put Brand and Maggette back in the game and the momentum carried over, fueled by the best defense the Clippers have played in three games. After all, they gave up 98 points on opening night to the Cavaliers and 108 to the Lakers, who were without Shaquille O'Neal (toe) and Rick Fox (suspension).

The only glaring breakdown during the final minutes came on Robinson's three-point try at the buzzer. Brand missed a short jumper and the Pistons rebounded and called a timeout with five seconds left. Two Clippers then went to cover Williamson in the corner, leaving Robinson alone beyond the three-point arc.

Robinson's shot missed the mark and there was an audible sigh of relief from the crowd and from the Clippers.

"I don't think anybody in this locker room was prepared to talk about an 0-3 start," said Olowokandi, who had 19 points and tied a career high with 20 rebounds in 45 minutes.

"We didn't want to go on the road 0-3," said Brand, who added 17 points and 13 rebounds in 35 minutes.

The Clippers begin a four-game trip Wednesday against the 76ers at Philadelphia.

"We stayed positive," Brand said when asked about the team's state of mind as it fell behind by as many as 14 points before rallying in the third quarter. "Coach told us not to panic and we didn't. Finally, something went right for us. Finally, there's something to smile about."

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