The Optimist Club of Los Angeles, at least Gene Shue’s personal chapter, took shape in suburban Cleveland Wednesday night.
The Clipper coach watched his team get bombed by the Cleveland Cavaliers, 108-91, before a crowd of 16,513 at the Richfield Coliseum, ending what has seemed like the Clippers’ 4-game, season-opening trip to nowhere.
But on a night when the Clippers (1-3) scored 15 points and shot 24.1% in the first quarter, fell behind by 24 points in the third quarter at 74-50 and finished with a shooting percentage of 41.3, the coach still offered good news. Or his name isn’t Joe Isuzu.
“I was very happy with the way we played in the second half,” Shue said after the Clippers lost to the Cavaliers for the 8th straight time and 14th in the last 15 outings at Cleveland. “I thought we had a very aggressive lineup. I thought Tom Garrick came in and gave us a spark.
“With this young team, you have to try to figure out who can do what. You want guys who will go all out, and we’ve been trying to get the right combination of that this year.”
Are some players not going all out?
“I would rather dwell on the positive than the negatives,” he replied.
That would, of course, be the same Tom Garrick who was ready to declare himself MIA somewhere near the darkest reaches of the bench. The No. 4 guard in terms of minutes during the exhibition season, his playing time had been cut drastically in the regular season with 6 players at the position.
He got all of 4 minutes against Philadelphia, 3 against Miami and didn’t even play against Charlotte, a game the Clippers lost by 12 points.
Again Wednesday, the second-round pick from Rhode Island watched as starter Reggie Williams and then reserves Quintin Dailey and Grant Gondrezick took turns at shooting guard. Garrick got his chance in the third quarter and responded with his first 8 points as a pro, on 4-of-6 shooting, and played 13 minutes.
More important, Shue liked the chemistry when Garrick was in the lineup with either Norm Nixon or Gary Grant at the point and Greg Kite, Charles Smith and Ken Norman in the front court.
‘I was put in the game at a time when the Cavs might have felt we were dead,” Garrick said of the third quarter, in which the Clippers played Cleveland even by scoring 29 points. “Our energy level increased a bit then.
“From my standpoint, it’s a building block, but it’s nothing to get overly excited about. I’d like to be able to contribute in more than one game.”
Cleveland, which won 4 straight games to end the 1987-88 regular season and won all 8 exhibition games this season, is 3-0. The Cavaliers had plenty of contributions, not counting the Clipper handout of 21 turnovers. Forward Larry Nance scored a game-high 27 points, hitting 10 of 13 shots; guard Mark Price added 21 points and 11 assists, and guard Ron Harper scored 18 points. The Cavaliers also had 9 blocked shots.
That was more than enough to send the Clippers home a wounded bunch, emotionally speaking. Even optimists would have to agree.
“I think it was a great learning experience for us,” veteran guard Norm Nixon said of the trip and the final outing. “We got down in a couple of the games and lost our composure, in particular the last couple. So instead of staying in our game, I think everybody tried to do their own thing, and that only gets you buried even more.
“I just get frustrated a lot of times. I know a lot of the guys have a lot to do to get things squared away, and I know I do, too.
“But we’ve been gone from home for, what, 6 weeks? We had the month at training camp and have been back East almost 2 weeks. It’ll be nice to be able to go home and sleep in our own beds and regroup and try to start this thing over again.”
Danny Manning and his agent, Ron Grinker, attended the game, the first time Manning has seen the Clippers in person since he was made the No. 1 pick in the draft. They made the 65-minute flight from Cincinnati in a a private jet and watched the game from a friend’s skybox in hopes of meeting with Clipper General Manager Elgin Baylor. But Baylor, not knowing Manning and Grinker would be at the game, left the team Wednesday morning in Charlotte, N.C. “I feel like a part of the team,” Manning said, adding that he is surprised his holdout has lasted so long. “Sooner or later I will be, officially.” There is no movement in the negotiations, at an impasse because the Clippers want a fifth year on the contract, one more than Manning, and deferred payments. . . . Add Manning: About that playbook Clipper Coach Gene Shue gave him in hopes of having part of the system learned upon arrival? It’s last year’s model, with many of the plays of 1988-89 not included, so Manning hasn’t even opened it.
Coach Lenny Wilkens, whose Cavaliers have risen from a 23-59 record in 1982-83 to become a major contender in the tough Central Division, on the possibilities of similar development for the Clippers: “I certainly hope everybody in L.A. sees that. What he (Shue) is doing is great. You’ve got to let the young players play to see what they can and what they can’t do.” . . . The Cavaliers’ 3-0 start is their best since 1978-79. . . . The Clippers, who got 17 points each from Ken Norman and Charles Smith, will play their home opener Saturday night against Phoenix at the Sports Arena.