There are games when Clipper guard Derek Smith feels that every shot he attempts, no matter its length or degree of difficulty, will somehow find its way into the basket. In those cases, most of his shots do.
Sunday afternoon, in the Seattle SuperSonics' 108-102 win over the Clippers before 7,474 at the Kingdome, Smith had one of those games. Smith was clearly the best player on the court, scoring a career-high 35 points as well as grabbing nine rebounds and making four steals.
Unfortunately for the Clippers, Smith didn't make every shot. If he had, perhaps the Clippers would have been celebrating the end of a road-losing streak instead of rehashing how they lost another reasonably close game.
Although he played perhaps his best overall game, making 14-of-20 shots from the field and all seven free-throw attempts, Smith said there was nothing satisfying in his performance. After all, he missed six shots on a day when he had that "feeling," including three crucial attempts in the fourth quarter.
"We lost by, what, six points today?" Smith asked. "Well, I had those three (shots) rim out in the fourth quarter. Some nights you've just got the feeling and you know they are going in. I think all my shots should've gone in today. It (the career high) means nothing. We lost."
Among the Clipper players who lined up to take the blame for Sunday's loss, which dropped the Clippers' record to 22-35, Smith would rank the lowest on the list. Actually, this one was a team effort.
After falling behind by 19 points in the second quarter in what looked like a re-creation of last Wednesday's loss to Seattle in Los Angeles, the Clippers came all the way back to take a 93-91 lead with 5:24 left in the game.
In the next four minutes, though, the SuperSonics went on a 12-2 run that ended the Clippers' hope of a rare road victory and silenced the boos from the Kingdome crowd. During that span, Smith had three jumpers pop out of the basket after they were seemingly headed for the bottom of the net.
But those missed shots were the least of the Clippers' transgressions in the final five minutes. As Smith would later say, the Clippers got crunched during Crunch Time.
When they weren't letting rookie forward Tim McCormick dunk over them, guard Gerald Henderson drive by them or forward Danny Vranes push them out of the way for offensive rebounds, the Clippers were turning over the ball and missing easy shots.
The play that typified the Clippers' futile fourth-quarter effort occurred with 1:33 left to give the SuperSonics a 102-95 lead. Both Clipper center James Donaldson and forward Michael Cage had control of the rebound of Al Wood's jump shot. At some point on the way down, Donaldson and Cage performed an Alphonse and Gaston routine, letting McCormick pick up the loose ball and score an easy basket.
Clipper Coach Jim Lynam quickly called time out after that, probably to re-introduce Donaldson and Cage.
"It's one of those brief moments when you don't know who's going to get the rebound," Donaldson said. "You assume the other guy is going to get it, but . . . It hurt. We (he and Cage) know we made a big mistake. We were just praying (McCormick's) shot would roll out of the rim."
Smith, who had 23 points at halftime and seemed assured of surpassing his previous career-high of 33 points, struggled in the fourth quarter and needed three shots in the final two minutes to reach 35.
Smith was supported by Norm Nixon's 24 points. But other than the backcourt production, the Clippers received little support from the front court or bench. Seattle, conversely, had six players in double figures, Henderson and Wood leading the way with 18 points each.
"Derek had a great game," Lynam said. "He hasn't been playing consistently lately. He's played decent, but for Derek, I have higher expectations. For 50 games, he was consistently there and then for the last dozen, he's been erratic. Derek and I talked about it. He's got to work harder to be more consistent."
Perhaps Lynam should have that type of talk with all the players.