ORLANDO, Fla. — The Clippers finally got it right Sunday. Oh, they were far from flawless, but at the end, they ripped a game from the hands of the Orlando Magic and managed relieved smiles afterward in their locker room.
Instead of yielding to Tracy McGrady's smooth drives and arcing jump shots and Darrell Armstrong's hot shooting late, the Clippers played a gritty style that had been notably absent during their first five games.
A 120-117 victory over the Magic before a crowd of 13,571 at TD Waterhouse Centre was the sort of confidence builder the Clippers needed. Resiliency wasn't exactly a hallmark of the Clippers' play in the opening days and nights of the season, but it was Sunday against Orlando.
The Clippers (2-4) overcame 32 points (on 12-for-21 shooting) from McGrady, eight consecutive fourth-quarter points from Armstrong, a sluggish start and a late Orlando run to steal a victory from the Magic.
Moreover, the Clippers reaped the benefits of Marko Jaric's dogged defense against McGrady, who otherwise might have scored 40, and Elton Brand's relentless pursuit of the basketball in the final minutes.
All five starters scored 16 or more points, led by Andre Miller's season-high 29. Michael Olowokandi had 21 points, on 10-for-14 shooting, and 10 rebounds.
One victory won't cure all that ails them, but it certainly lifted the Clippers' spirits heading into the final game of a four-game trip Tuesday at Miami.
In fact, the feel-good atmosphere began Saturday at the home of Corey Maggette's family in Orlando. The Maggettes invited the team for dinner to celebrate Corey's 23rd birthday a few days early.
"It was good to have some home cooking and to have the whole team and the coaching staff come over," said Maggette, who scored 19 points Sunday. "It was a good feeling to have everyone there celebrating my birthday."
Orlando (5-2) was the third stop on a tour of Eastern Conference powers. The Clippers led the Philadelphia 76ers late only to lose in overtime Wednesday, and led the New Jersey Nets in the fourth quarter only to be routed in the closing minutes Friday.
The Clippers' prospects for a victory Sunday seemed dim after they committed five turnovers in the first 6:10 and trailed, 19-9. The sloppy play ended soon after that, however, and the Clippers rallied into the lead in the third quarter.
After Sean Rooks made two free throws with 10:32 remaining in the game, the Clippers' lead grew to 94-84. The Magic rallied to tie the score at 100-100, then surged into a 113-106 lead with 3:13 remaining after Armstrong went on a personal 8-0 run.
But Orlando would get only two free throws and a jump shot at the buzzer from Grant Hill the rest of the way. Eric Piatkowski's three-point basket got the Clippers started on a 14-4 roll to close out the Magic.
"I was talking to a couple of guys and they were saying [before the game], 'Why can't we win any games?' " said Piatkowski, who made eight of nine shots and scored 21 points. "We needed this game mentally. It's good for us. It's going to give us a lot of confidence. We hadn't played up to our potential."
That changed in the final minutes Sunday. Ahead, 117-115, after Keyon Dooling made two free throws, Brand blocked Pat Garrity's three-point shot from the left-hand corner with 20.4 seconds left. Brand chased down the loose ball, firing it to Jaric before it went out of bounds.
At the other end, after Miller made one free throw and missed the second, Brand beat Garrity to the rebound to enable the Clippers to keep possession. The Magic again fouled Miller, who made both free throws for a 120-115 lead with 14.7 seconds to play. Hill's consolation bucket at the buzzer accounted for the final score.
"We were up 10 points with nine minutes left," Brand said. "They took the lead, but we took it back. About time we took one. It's great for our confidence to come back and beat Orlando while they're hot. We had it all going today."