Charles Barkley, the round mound of rebound, was aiming for profound. A prediction of sorts, he said, on the future of the Clippers.
“I think they should be disappointed if they don’t make the playoffs,” he said before Saturday night’s game at the Sports Arena. “A realistic goal for that team should be to make the playoffs.”
And: “They’ve got a good shot at winning the championship in the next three or four or five years.”
First things first. The Clippers couldn’t get past Philadelphia, and the man with the crystal ball saw to it himself that the future will wait for at least one more game. Barkley collected 28 points and 15 rebounds to lead the 76ers to a 100-95 victory in front of 14,559.
The 76ers clinched the win with a 10-4 run in the final 2:05, most of the damage coming on free throws, which was only fitting. For the night, they hit 28 of 33 attempts.
What particularly bothered the Clippers was how Philadelphia got to the line. Patient offense, run the clock down, and then, with time running out, draw the whistle. The 76er M.O. is a half-court game, the opposite of the fast-break Clippers, and that’s how the game was decided.
“I felt like I was lulled into what they were playing,” Clipper forward Charles Smith said. “Then, when we tried to pick it up a notch and run our break, we made turnovers.”
Nineteen in all, which Philadelphia turned into 24 points.
“I give Philly a lot of credit,” Coach Don Casey said, “but we still have to generate something.”
The Clippers (10-16) got their first lead of the final quarter when Ron Harper charged down the lane, pulled up, hung, got the foul and made the short jump shot with 3:45 to play. He converted the free throw for another of his game-high 29 points and an 89-88 advantage.
It went back and forth from there, neither team building more than a one-point lead until Barkley made two free throws with 1:17 left that gave the 76ers a 96-93 edge. When Hersey Hawkins added two more with 43 seconds remaining, the Clippers were done.
“The fouls they were getting came when everything else broke down, so they just drove the lane and got the foul,” Casey said. “You can’t do that to a good team. To any team, really.”
There were other losses. The Clippers were optimistic after shoot-around that Ken Norman, who missed the second half of Thursday’s blowout win over Golden State with a strained groin, would be available for full duty. Early on, though, that feeling changed.
With a grueling eight-game trip beginning Tuesday at Minnesota, and the Clippers not wanting to risk a long-term loss of their starting forward, Norman went to the locker room with 10:05 to play in the first half. Coaches had encouraged him to stop playing at the first indication of trouble, and Norman made the call after playing eight minutes.
Although Joe Wolf replaced Norman and responded with two quick baskets, the Clippers continued to get beaten inside. Barkley had 15 points and 10 rebounds in the first half, when teammate Mike Gminski had 11 of his 15 points, nine of which came in the second quarter.
In stark contrast to the Golden State game, the Clippers shot poorly to open the game, so poorly that Philadelphia took an 11-3 advantage by scoring on its first six possessions.
It went the other way to open the second half. The Clippers, looking for their seventh win in eight games at the Sports Arena, used an 11-3 run early in the third quarter to make it 64-58 and force the 76ers to take a 20-second timeout to slow the momentum.
It not only slowed, it changed. Philadelphia followed with a 7-0 surge out of the timeout, and it was Casey’s turn to call a 20-second cram session, his team suddenly trailing, 65-64, with 3:12 left in the third quarter.
It should have been a wake-up call, but none was forthcoming for the Clippers. Not with Barkley, bold predictions aside, having lulled them into the past.
A 31-year-old woman charged in a lawsuit Friday that Clipper forward Danny Manning insulted her, punched her in the eye and knocked her over during a June 3 party. Manning refused comment before Saturday’s game. According to the suit filed in Sedgwick County (Kan.) District Court, Karen Hopkins seeks more than $10,000 in damages for the incident at a Wichita nightclub, which, she alleges, began when her sister approached Manning to compliment the former Kansas star on his success in the pros and was met with verbal abuse. The suit says Hopkins went to her sister’s defense and was cursed at and threatened by Manning. Hopkins alleges he then punched her in the eye and knocked her over when she told him he was rude. The nightclub owner said employees told him a scuffle broke out after a crowd pestered Manning for his autograph.