The Clippers’ nightmare on Figueroa Street is over.
The Clippers, who did almost everything wrong in a pair of season-opening blowout losses last weekend, did almost everything right to win their first game of the season.
The Clippers beat the Utah Jazz, 100-88, Tuesday night before 6,104 fans at the Sports Arena.
And this is no dream.
The win snapped a 16-game losing streak dating back to last season.
But there wasn’t any champagne in the Clipper locker room.
Utah was the last team the Clippers beat last season.
Center Benoit Benjamin, who had slept through the first two games of this season, finally woke up.
Benjamin, who had a freshly shaved head, came off the bench to score 10 points and grab 7 rebounds. Benjamin had 6 points in the fourth quarter as the Clippers held off a Utah comeback.
Benjamin also dished off for a career-high 9 assists, including 4 in the third period.
“Benoit is back. He’s risen from the grave,” said Clipper forward Michael Cage, who had 19 points and 11 rebounds.
Benjamin, who had been criticized by his teammates because he went dancing after spraining his ankle in the team’s 46-point loss to Denver last Friday, refused to speak with reporters after the game.
“I ain’t got nothing to say,” Benjamin said. “I don’t have no comment about anything.”
Said Clipper guard Larry Drew of Benjamin: “I think he just snapped out of it tonight. He did some things we’ve been trying to get him to do for a long time.”
Guard Mike Woodson led the Clippers with 23 points, including 14 in the first half.
Rookies Joe Wolf and Reggie Williams, the Clippers’ top draft picks last June, also played well.
Wolf led the Clippers with 12 rebounds, and he also had 10 points. Williams scored 9 points. Drew added 10 points.
Karl Malone led the Jazz with 24 points, including 20 in the first half. Melvin Turpin had 11 rebounds.
The Clippers, who didn’t score in the first 3 1/2 minutes of the final period, wasted a 19-point third period lead as the Jazz cut it to 79-75 early in the fourth quarter.
However, Cage, Benjamin and Woodson bailed out the Clippers.
The Clippers, beaten badly on defense and on the boards in their first two games, looked vastly improved in those two areas against the Jazz.
“I feel we have to have some type of defense to win ballgames,” Clipper Coach Gene Shue said. “We had very few breakdowns on defense tonight, and we got performance from everybody.”
Said Utah Coach Frank Layden: “We lost the game in the first half. They came to play. They hustled and played hard. When we lost to Boston (109-95 in their final exhibition game), we played the same way. But we weren’t playing the Celtics tonight.
“I didn’t think we did a good job defensively. I thought there was a lack of effort on defense. Good teams don’t lose these games.”
Quintin Dailey sank a 47-foot three-point shot from half court at the end of the first half to give the Clippers a 57-47 lead at halftime. “I just closed my eyes,” Dailey said. “It was a lucky shot.”
Dailey’s miracle shot was a fitting end to the best half of basketball the Clippers have played this season.
Even Benjamin, who was booed at the start of the game, played well.
Benjamin, who had sat out the Clippers’ 25-point home opening loss to the Portland Trail Blazers with a sprained ankle, looked like a changed man.
He came off the bench to score 4 points, grab 4 rebounds and pass off for 5 assists in 16 minutes in the first half.
The Clippers led, 25-16, at the end of the first quarter as Woodson scored 8 points and Williams added 5, including a 3-pointer. Woodson finished with 14 points in the first half, and Wolf added 8.
Wolf, who was moved from power forward to small forward to make room for Cage in the starting lineup, had 9 rebounds in the first half as the Clippers outrebounded Utah, 24-22.
Malone led the Jazz with 20 points in the first half, including 12 in the second period. But he was almost shut out in the second half, scoring just 4 points.
“We had a lot of easy shots that didn’t fall in,” Malone said. “We took the same shots against Sacramento but they went in.
“This is nothing to worry about. If it was 20 or 30 games into the season, then I’d be worried.”
The Clippers played good defense in the first half, forcing the Jazz to take bad shots. In the first quarter, Utah hit just 27.3% (6-22).
The Clippers outscored the Jazz, 13-4, in the first 6 minutes of the second half to take a 19-point lead (70-51) with six minutes left in the third quarter.
“I don’t remember the last win,” said Cage, who had 10 points and 5 rebounds in the third quarter. “This was a good victory against a good team.”
The Clippers lost to the Jazz, 123-85, last month in their first exhibition game. . . . Thursday night, the Clippers play the Lakers at the Forum. The Lakers have won six straight from the Clippers, who have lost 17 consecutive games at the Forum dating back to Nov. 27, 1981. . . . The Laker-Clipper game will be televised live by Channel 5 with Ralph Lawler and ex-Clipper Junior Bridgeman calling the action.