The Michael Jordan Traveling Road Show made its annual Sports Arena visit Sunday night, only to be upstaged by the hosts.
It's not that the sellout crowd of 15,350 forgot about Jordan by the end of the third quarter. They simply saved their ovations for the Clippers, 120-96 winners over the Chicago Bulls.
Ordinarily, this would have been like the Washington Generals getting the standing ovations at the expense of the Harlem Globetrotters. But with Ron Harper an offensive threat again after an off night and Danny Manning expected back as soon as Wednesday, this success had more than a hint of reality.
"The feeling is great," said guard Gary Grant, who finished with 17 assists, 12 points and eight rebounds. "I love it when the crowd comes out like this. They didn't come to see us--they came to see Michael. But they switched to us. We pulled them over."
Like a one-sided tug-o-war match.
"Any time you play a great player or a great team, they (the crowd) want to come out to watch the other side," Harper said. "They're not sure how we are going to react. Tonight, we showed them how we were going to react."
The Clippers, winning for the second time in three games to improve to 4-6, shot 70% in the first half and led by as many as 22 points when it was still starter-against-starter early in the fourth quarter. They finished at 63.8%, led by Harper, who hit 16 of 25 attempts for 36 points--four shy of his career best--and seven assists.
The Clippers' Charles Smith had 23 points, and Joe Wolf added 18 points and a game-high nine rebounds.
Jordan, who came in averaging 32.7 points, had 26, but only nine in the second half. Moreover, the Bulls (7-6) scored only 16 points in the third quarter and shot 43.4% for the night.
"One rose does not a summer make," Clipper Coach Don Casey said. "But these are days when things start to mesh together, when a lot of potential showed."
It showed to the point that the Clippers had their largest margin of victory since Jan. 18, 1987, when they beat Utah, 131-97. And it showed early.
The Clippers made 13 of 19 shots (68.4%) in the first quarter, at one point going ahead, 30-19. Smith, who finished 11 of 12 from the field, scored 11 in those first 12 minutes. Jordan spent the final 8:20 of the period on the bench after getting his second foul.
The Clippers' lead reached 12 in the second quarter when Ron Harper stole the ball from Jordan and drove for a dunk with 4:48 to play. The lead was 64-53 at halftime, as Harper had 18, Smith 17 and Wolf 12 and six rebounds.
"For this team, a good start is a plus," Grant said. "If we get a good start, we can beat any team."
Chicago, on the final stop of a seven-game trip through the Western Conference and without injured starting center Bill Cartwright, fell behind by 18, 72-54, a little more than two minutes into the second half. That included a scoreless streak of 3:45 by the Bulls, and it would only get worse.
"Got to give credit to the Clippers," Chicago forward Horace Grant said. "They played a perfect game. I think we were at home already tonight the way we played."
It might have seemed that way at the start, based on the crowd's ovation for Jordan. But by the end, it was strictly a Clipper home game.
The anger from Friday's loss to the San Antonio Spurs simmers. Charles Smith, whose three-point shot to send the game into overtime was ruled a two-pointer by Earl Strom, said that the Clippers don't get breaks because they are the Clippers. "It's indicative of the way our games have been called and the way they're still being called," Coach Don Casey said. "I don't think anyone thinks the Clippers could put in a three-point shot at that point in the game, so the mindset is such. Someone said to me if that shot had been attempted by the home team in another arena in town, the guy not only would have gotten the three, but maybe (a foul would have been called), too. It's time people realized these kids are working hard and are for real. The perception here is that it's a Clipper call, and I don't like it because it's not good for for the game or our team."
The Clippers had considered filing a protest even after being told that a judgment call was involved. "We have to make a statement," Casey said. "We're tired of being looked upon this way. We're paying for past sins." . . . General Manager Elgin Baylor spent 30 minutes after the game with assistant coaches Dave Twardzik, Bob Staak and Joe Roberts replaying the final seconds of the 90-89 loss to the Spurs. "It's a feeling of frustration because it's like, what do you have to do to get a break?" Baylor said. "If it was close or questionable, you can say, 'That's the breaks.' But it wasn't even close." And what of Smith's contention that it was a Clipper call, one that would have gone the opposite way for most other teams? "What he said had some merit," Baylor said. "If we were a consistent winning team, like the Lakers, for example, it might not have happened that way."
He leads the league in scoring, but Michael Jordan began the night shooting 48.4%, including a 12-for-29 performance Saturday at Golden State. "I go through one slump every year," he said. "I'm glad this one is at the beginning of the season." . . . Chicago center Bill Cartwright, who had started the first 11 games, did not suit up for the second consecutive game because of tendinitis in his knees. Will Perdue started in his place.