Put a hold on that Clipper obituary, at least for now. Believe it or not, the Clippers still aren’t out of the playoffs.
Sure, it would take a mini-miracle for the Clippers to slip in, but after watching his team win its fourth game in a row, over the Utah Jazz, 97-94, at the Sports Arena Wednesday night, Coach Don Chaney said his team isn’t conceding anything just yet.
“We’re hanging in there,” he said. “It all has to do with a long shot. And I’ve been in this league long enough to know that anything can happen at any given time.”
For the second consecutive night, it just so happened that the Clippers upended the Jazz. Now, with only five games left in the regular season, the Clipper playoff situation looks difficult, but not impossible.
The Clippers cannot lose more than once and the San Antonio Spurs cannot win more than once in their last four games.
If that sounds far-fetched, at leasts it sounds a little more reasonable than it did before the Clippers won their last four.
“Obviously, we’ve dug a big hole for ourselves,” said Cedric Maxwell, who had 18 points and 7 rebounds. “I’m not totally expecting to take my vacation to Hawaii as early as I thought I would before.”
After leading by nine points at the half, the Clippers were tied going into the fourth quarter, largely because of Adrian Dantley’s 10 third-quarter points.
When Thurl Bailey dropped a baseline jumper with 2:25 left in the game, the Jazz held a 94-93 lead. They did not score again, which says something about the Jazz, as well as the Clippers.
“I have to stay away from thinking there is something wrong with the Jazz,” Utah Coach Frank Layden said.
Once again, there wasn’t anything wrong with Benoit Benjamin, who matched Maxwell with 18 points, took down 16 rebounds and blocked 5 shots.
Benjamin’s inside power move gave the Clippers the lead for good, then Benjamin stole John Stockton’s pass, and Norm Nixon sank an 18-footer to put the Clippers ahead by three points.
In their final four possessions, the Jazz committed two turnovers and missed two shots. Dantley, who finished with 29 points in 37 minutes, did not attempt a shot in the last four minutes.
“That’s the way it is,” Dantley said. “We just didn’t get it done.”
Utah already is secure in the knowledge that it will play Dallas in the first round, but Layden hasn’t seen much to make him feel very comfortable lately.
“If I can’t beat these guys, how am I going to beat the Lakers or Houston,” Layden said. “The second half is about as good as we can play. That’s who we are.”
But who are the Clippers? At this point, they are a team doing some heavy figuring.
“Mathematically, we’re still in it,” Nixon said. “If San Antonio loses every game and if we win them all, then we’re all right, but that’s a lot of ifs.”
The Clippers led, 52-43, at halftime, because of a late offensive outburst by Marques Johnson, which isn’t so unusal, as well as some strong defensive work from Michael Cage, which is pretty unexpected.
With the Clippers holding a shaky 39-37 lead, Johnson took over, but not without some added help from Benjamin, who had eight of his rebounds in the first half.
Johnson’s driving layup gave the Clippers some breathing room, then he scored twice more on inside moves. When he assisted Benjamin on a roaring dunk, the Clippers were up by eight.
Rickey Green missed, Johnson rebounded, and Cage got loose for a breakaway layup, which gave the Clippers their biggest lead of the first half, 51-41.
After ending the third quarter in a 77-77 tie, the Jazz fell behind again, only to score eight points in a row, the last two on hook shots by Mark Eaton, to move ahead, 86-82, midway through the final period.
But the Clippers stayed within striking distance, which is what Chaney admired most.
“We are not breaking under pressure,” he said. “To be honest, though, sure, I have the playoffs in mind, but I want to be realistic. I just want us to play hard and then we’ll see what happens.”