Don Chaney did not see the shot that gave him his first win as a National Basketball Assn. coach. As soon as Clipper center James Donaldson raised his arms to shoot, Chaney closed his eyes and listened for the crowd's reaction.
Moments later, when Chaney found enough courage to open his eyes, he discovered that Donaldson had made the shot with two seconds left to give the Clippers a 113-112 win over the Indiana Pacers Thursday night at Market Square Arena.
Donaldson's 10-foot jump shot not only assured Chaney of his first victory since taking over as interim coach six games ago but also ended two embarrassingly long Clipper streaks.
The floundering club had lost 11 straight games and 14 straight on the road, prompting some players to seriously question if they'd have to wait until next season to win again.
"To tell you the truth," Junior Bridgeman said, "I was wondering if we'd ever win."
So was Chaney. It didn't matter that his first victory was only a one-point decision over a team with an even worse record than the Clippers'.
"Now that the first one is here, it eases the pressure on the coaches," Chaney said. "The players won't feel it as much, either. Before we started this (five-game) trip, my wife said, 'I hope you don't go 0-21.' I said, 'I hope not, too.' It was a little bit scary, the way it ended. But if you're going to win your first, why not do it this way?"
Chaney no doubt would have liked to take credit for devising that ingenious play in which Donaldson attempted the final shot, to the surprise of every Pacer on the court. The truth is, however, that even the Clipper players were surprised when Donaldson hoisted the jumper.
The 7-2 Donaldson, who normally doesn't shoot from as far as 10 feet, even in warm-ups, wasn't the Clippers' first option--or second or third. The Clippers wanted to feed Derek Smith for a lob, or, failing that, go to either Marques Johnson or Norm Nixon for a jumper. All were covered, so it was up to Donaldson.
"It all happened so quickly that you just react," Donaldson said.
The final shot almost wasn't attempted. When Donaldson turned to shoot, Indiana guard Jim Thomas wrenched the ball from his grasp. But Donaldson retrieved it and shot it, and Chaney closed his eyes.
"He told me (about closing his eyes) when we came off the court," Donaldson said, laughing. "What confidence from my own coach, huh?"
The mood in the Clipper locker room was upbeat for a change. And why not? They had won their first game since Feb. 18 (over San Antonio) and their first road game since Jan. 12 (over Golden State).
"This streak could have gone on forever," Donaldson said. "This game would have been very demoralizing if we had lost it after coming so close."
Actually, the Clippers came very close to extending the losing streak to 12. Leading, 111-110, with 13 seconds left after a Norm Nixon drive, the Clippers failed to stop the Pacers' Herb Williams from getting open under the basket. Donaldson blocked Williams' shot, but Williams was fouled by Harvey Catchings on the rebound.
Williams made both free throws with 10 seconds left to make it 112-111, Pacers, setting the stage for Donaldson.
When Donaldson was overheard telling the media that "10 feet is a little out of my range," it drew some kidding by his teammates. They suggested that Donaldson should have received three points for it.
Donaldson finished with 12 points and 14 rebounds. Smith and Nixon led the Clippers with 22 and 21 points, respectively. Pacer center Steve Stipanovich scored a career-high 34 points, while Williams added 18.
So, the losing streak is over, but the Clipper problems aren't, despite a day off today and then three straight home games.
"We must come to the realization that in order to win, we must play as hard every game as we did tonight," Chaney said.
Indiana held a 22-7 edge in offensive rebounds and was outrebounded, 56-39, overall. But the Clippers commited 15 turnovers to 22 for the Pacers. . . . Bill Walton played his best game since coming back from his ankle injury more than a week ago. In 18 minutes, Walton had six points, two rebounds, two blocked shots and three assists.