OKLAHOMA CITY — Last-place love, apparently, is in the eye of the beholder.
The warm civic bear hug applied to the Oklahoma City Thunder, formerly of Seattle, has continued unabashed through a most-miserable start with only one win in 12 games, and now, a nine-game losing streak.
It hit nine when Oklahoma City blew a 15-point second-quarter lead to the struggling Clippers on Wednesday night in front of 18,312 at the Ford Center.
The Clippers' 108-88 victory came via a collaborative effort as every starter finished in double figures. Chris Kaman (25 points) and Cuttino Mobley (23) had season highs, and Mobley had a career-high seven steals, four in the first quarter.
Crowds of this size here have been the norm. It wasn't just because the Clippers (2-9) were in town, though two locals admitted that was part of the draw.
"That's why we came to the game. We knew we were going to win," said Jay Colt of Oklahoma City. "I don't care if they're in last place. I still love them."
Colt and his friend were speaking at halftime. The Thunder was leading, 52-49, at the half, and the way the Clippers have been fading in the latter stages, a Thunder victory didn't seem out of the question.
Instead, Oklahoma City virtually disappeared in the third quarter. The Clippers went on a 14-2 run, which included a 12-0 surge, starting with 6 minutes 41 seconds to play.
Thunder Coach P.J Carlesimo had hoped it would take the Clippers a little longer to figure things out, saying beforehand, "Give me one more not-quite-the-real-Baron Davis game out of him."
But you can't underestimate the dubious distinction of landing in last place as a motivational force. Relief was the prevailing sentiment in the Clippers dressing room afterward.
"Yeah, I think so," said Marcus Camby, who had 14 points and nine rebounds. "We all joked about playing for last place. We didn't want to have that title. Especially tonight."
Said Mobley, of his seven steals: "Baron said before the game, 'You've got to get focused.' We're talking about the whole team. I was sitting on the bus and I was saying, 'I'm just going to try to play as hard as I can defensively and see what happens.' "
Davis' game ignited eventually as he scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half, and made two three-point baskets.
"We need to go out on the road and play in hostile environments and come together," he said. "It makes you focus a little bit. Things are not comfortable. You're not in a comfortable position.
"We'll definitely take it. The fact we came back from 15 down to win by 20 shows we have some character."
Said Camby: "It didn't look good early. It wasn't just one guy. Chris, Cat [Mobley], B.D. came alive.
"It felt good to get the win. Maybe we just needed to get out of L.A. for a bit to gather ourselves and take on that us-against-them mentality."
The Clippers had 58 points in the paint to 30 for the Thunder, and Kaman was an integral part of that effort. He also had 14 rebounds.
"Chris has been playing great for us," Coach Mike Dunleavy said. "The last few games he's gotten back in his rhythm after having played in the Olympics and he's been putting up real strong numbers."
Kaman is finding a level of understanding with Camby, and Davis, to a certain extent.
"I'm just trying to be patient, take good shots and good looks at the basket and if I don't have it, kick it back out," he said. "I'm slowly getting used to playing with him [Camby]. He's a great passer, a great floor leader, and he does a great job for us defensively.
"Everything is new. Baron is new. Marcus is new. We've just got to get used to everybody. I think we're slowly getting there. It's taking time."
Kaman's name had surfaced often in trade rumors, mostly to East Coast destinations, in the last couple of weeks. They didn't go away even though Dunleavy has scoffed at them.
Said Dunleavy, jokingly: "I think I may keep him."