For the second time in the Clippers' last three games, there was a bench-clearing melee, tempers flared and players were ejected. This time, Clipper center Kurt Nimphius and Cavalier center Melvin Turpin came to blows in the fourth quarter, long after the Clippers had been blown out again.
Cedric Maxwell fought to a draw with Philadelphia's Charles Barkley last week in Los Angeles, but Nimphius lost a decision to Turpin, absorbing an elbow to the chest and a glancing blow to the head before the benches emptied and both players were restrained.
Afterward, Nimphius acted almost as disappointed about his fight with Turpin as about the Clippers' dreary loss in the opener of a seven-game, 12-day trip. The next bout, uh, game will be at Indianapolis tonight.
"I should have just taken my time and hit him," Nimphius said. "I got too excited and didn't take time to really hit him."
Punch was also lacking in the Clippers' play Friday night. After trailing, 57-55, at halftime, the Clippers resembled punch-drunk fighters as they stumbled around the Richfield Coliseum court in a seeming daze. "We weren't alert," Coach Don Chaney said.
It showed statistically. Cleveland, which had a distinct height advantage, outrebounded the Clippers, 52-26. In the second half, the Clippers had a total of only nine rebounds. The Cavaliers forced 10 of the Clippers' 16 turnovers in the second half. Cleveland shot 59.6%, the Clippers 44.2%.
These days, it seems as if the Clippers would rather fight than swish . After a solid first half against Cleveland, they were outscored in the third quarter, 37-24.
"We have a tendency at times to forget what we do right," Chaney said. "We get to a certain point and then, that's it. We've got to learn to duplicate halves. If you play a good first half, you should play a good second half.
"One thing you can say about these guys: They play with intensity and they care about what happens out there. They get frustrated, and that may lead to the fights."
Friday's fight was slow in developing. Turpin, 6-11 and 270 pounds, and Nimphius, 6-11 and 220 pounds, traded shoves and elbows throughout the game, finally coming to blows with 6:05 left and Cleveland leading, 108-94.
Turpin, standing in the lane, greeted an onrushing Nimphius with an elbow to the chest. Nimphius swung and missed, and Turpin swung and connected. Then, Edgar Jones held back Nimphius and diminutive Norm Nixon tried to restrain Turpin. Turpin kept coming at Nimphius, who retreated quickly.
Nixon was the only player wounded in the scuffle. He suffered a nasty cut on his little finger.
"I was the Black Strangler, nothing but," Turpin said, referring to his nickname. "I tried to break his neck. . . . If the refs don't take control, then I have to. I don't care if a midget comes after me, I'm going to hit him. If you come at me, watch out."
Nimphius said: "It (the fight) was really just a wrestling match."
Maybe, but the second half of the game was a mismatch . Cleveland put together a 13-0 run midway through the third quarter and never wavered the rest of the way.
There were some positives for the Clippers. Norm Nixon (28 points) had his most productive game, but he also had six turnovers. Marques Johnson had 18 points, and Lancaster Gordon came off the bench for 15.
Among the lowlights were Benoit Benjamin playing 17 minutes without getting a rebound and Michael Cage getting two rebounds in 22 minutes.
"You can't win in this league unless you have big men," Nixon said. "(The Cavaliers) were reaching over us and tipping the ball back. We couldn't get any rebounds."
Turpin had 20 points before being ejected. World B. Free, who sparked the third-quarter surge, led the Cavaliers with 22.
The Clippers had figured that Cleveland was a team they could beat. The Cavaliers came into Friday night's game with a 6-11 home record.
"It's 7-11 now," Clipper forward Marques Johnson pointed out. "This was a game we should have won. Cleveland is not that great of a team."
Maybe so, but the Clippers certainly made the Cavaliers look like a great team Friday night.
Clipper Coach Don Chaney said he considered suspending rookie center Benoit Benjamin after Benjamin missed the team flight to Cleveland Thursday. But Chaney said he is not allowed to do so under the collective bargaining agreement with the players' association. Instead, Chaney fined Benjamin--again. . . . Not long after the New York Knicks announced that Scotty Stirling, the NBA's vice president of operations, had replaced Dave DeBusschere as the New York Knicks' general manager, there already was talk that Clipper General Manager Carl Scheer would replace Stirling. Scheer once held that position under former NBA Commissioner Walter Kennedy. "All this just happened today, so I don't know what's going on," Scheer said Friday afternoon. "(The NBA) has not contacted me. If they would, I'd have to consider it." . . . Derek Smith, still recovering from his knee surgery, probably won't join the Clippers in Atlanta Monday, as had been planned. Smith is feeling more soreness and is "tentative," according to Chaney. . . . The Clippers have yet to sign a player to replace retired Jamaal Wilkes, even though the club has $170,000 to work with under the salary cap.