Michael Cage Becomes Boss of the Boards : He Takes League Rebounding Title, but Clippers Fall in Finale

Times Staff Writer

Bruce Springsteen, who interrupted a five-night engagement at the Sports Arena so that the Clippers could end their season, may have born to run and the Clippers were born to lose, but Michael Cage was born to rebound.

The only suspense left in the Clippers' season finale Sunday night against the Seattle SuperSonics was whether Cage would win the National Basketball Assn. rebounding title.

The Clipper forward needed 29 rebounds going into the game to overtake Chicago forward Charles Oakley for the league rebounding title.

When Cage arrived at the Sports Arena there was a sign posted inside his dressing cubicle: 29 rebounds to be 1. Do It Michael.

Cage grabbed a career-high 30 rebounds in 48 minutes to win the title as the Clippers ended their season by losing their seventh straight game, 109-100.

Cage ended with a rebounding average of 13.027 per game. Oakley's average was 13.0.

The game was stopped with 1:33 remaining after Cage grabbed a missed shot by teammate Greg Kite for his 30th rebound.

Cage was presented with the game ball and he was honored with a standing ovation from the crowd of 8,157. Seattle Coach Bernie Bickerstaff walked over to shake Cage's hand.

"The crowd made me concentrate," Cage said. "Every time I grabbed a board, there was a cheer or a roar. And the guys kept telling me how many I needed. They would say 10 more . . . nine more.

"They (the Sonics) were on me the whole game. They didn't roll over and play dead. It wasn't easy."

Asked how he planned to celebrate, Cage said: "I'm going to call my mother. She wanted this just as much as I did."

Cage, who was sixth in the NBA rebounding race last season, said he earned a $15,000 bonus for finishing in the top five in rebounding this season. After a lengthy holdout which caused him to miss training camp, Cage signed a new four-year contract at the start of this season, which is worth a reported $800,000 per season.

Cage had 6 rebounds in the opening period and 8 in the second quarter. He added 11 in the third quarter, and entered the final quarter needing four rebounds to pass Oakley. He got five.

He had just one rebound in the first 5 1/2 minutes of the final quarter, but he grabbed his 27th rebound with 4:28 left after a miss by Kevin Williams. He hauled down No. 28 with 2:23 remaining after a miss by Derrick McKey, and he won the title when he ran down a missed shot by Sedale Threatt, taking the ball away from teammate Mike Woodson with 1:51 remaining.

"It slipped out of my hands," Woodson said. "But I figured that Cage would run it down."

Said Clipper Coach Gene Shue: "I was just so happy for him tonight because Michael has worked so hard for this goal.

"We were trying to set up plays for him, but Michael did that on his own. This is Michael's day."

Cage threw a theme party for team after the game. The theme of the party was: Summer's Here.

Summer may be a few months away, but the Clippers are already on vacation, sitting out the playoffs for the 11th straight season, an ongoing NBA record.

For the second consecutive season, the Clippers finished with the worst record in the NBA (17-65) and will be assured of no worse than the fourth pick in the NBA draft next June.

Will Shue, who was hired last May to rebuild the Clippers, return next season?

Owner Donald T. Sterling said last month that the Clippers had to show progress in the final month of the season for Shue to retain his job nest season.

A Clipper official who asked to not to be named said that Shue would probably return for his second season. An official announcement is expected Wednesday at a season-ending press conference at the Sports Arena.

Clipper Notes

Center Benoit Benjamin, who said at the end of last season that there was no way the Clippers could force him to work out in the off-season, said he plans to remain in Los Angeles this summer and play for the Clippers' summer league team. Benjamin met with Coach Gene Shue before the game.

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