Backcourt by committee took another turn Sunday night.
Jeff Martin started but played only five minutes without taking so much as a shot, Gary Grant played only 12 minutes in the second half, and Winston Garland and Tom Garrick carried the load as the Clippers beat the Sacramento Kings, 109-99, at the Sports Arena.
Safe to say with more than guarded optimism, the Garland-Garrick pairing was a key reason the Clippers snapped a five-game losing streak. They went the final 6:58 together, but Coach Mike Schuler said the successful combination will not unseat Martin from his spot in the opening lineup.
It wasn’t necessarily supposed to be that way. The intent was for the reserve guards to slow the Kings’ smaller, quicker backcourt of Rory Sparrow and Travis Mays, but they worked so well together on both ends there was no reason to change.
“It just worked out that way,” Schuler said. “When I subbed Gary out of the game, I fully expected to put him back in. But the backcourt continued to play well.”
In fact, a couple of key passes by Garland, a former starter, finally gave the Clippers control for good. Clinging to an 87-84 lead against the last-place Kings, Garland lobbed a pass along the left side to Ken Norman, who laid the ball in without coming down for two of his season-high 34 points. The next trip downcourt, Garland found Loy Vaught wide open underneath the basket for a slam dunk.
Vaught’s basket, in addition to being one of Garland’s six assists to go with 10 points in 29 minutes, started a 10-4 rally that gave the Clippers an insurmountable 101-90 advantage with 2:39 remaining.
“Me and Tommy really played well at both ends together,” Garland said. “I thought we bothered them a bit, us trying to create turnovers. I think we did a decent job at it, too.”
Garrick had a season-high 10 assists along with six points in 25 minutes, especially impressive considering it’s the most time he has had since Dec. 1 at Denver. In fact, the third-year player known for his defensive tenacity and work ethic had slipped to the bottom of any guard depth chart that might exist since Martin emerged on the recent six-game trip.
He did not even get into two recent games, Dec. 12 at Cleveland and Dec. 19 at New Jersey, and in two others on the 1-5 trip, Garrick went just one and three minutes. But Sunday’s showing should logjam the position even more. Hot and cold streaks will be important for the next 20 games or so as Ron Harper readies to return from the injured list. When he does, a roster spot will have to be cleared.
“It’s been tough,” Garrick said. “I’m not going to be a crybaby about it, though. If Coach puts someone in, it’s got to be for a good reason. I’m just trying to contribute to get back into the lineup.
“I feel I played well tonight. I feel I did the things that Coach wanted me to. But I’m not trying to get into his head, just like he says he doesn’t try to get in ours. All I can do is work as hard as possible and let the rest take care of itself.”
Against the Kings, the numbers looked good on offense, but, as is usually the case with Garrick, the reviews came for his defense.
“We always concentrate hard on defense,” Garrick said. “But with that kind of lineup--me and Winston or me and Gary--I concentrate a little more. I can’t play any harder, but it’s like I’m on defense every minute. After every shot we take, I’m ready to sprint back.”
The Clippers were in a race for much longer than they had hoped. Sacramento, a winner of just six games, was coming off a 28-point loss the night before at Seattle and had to travel Sunday morning, but the Kings never let the game get too far away.
In the second quarter, the Clippers built a 12-point margin, 39-27, with 7:38 left. With 1:04 remaining, the lead was down to three, 51-48.
In the third quarter, the Clippers went up by 11, 71-60, with 4:27 to play. With 11 seconds showing, the lead again was down to three, 78-75.
Finally, the Clippers got the cushion back to 11 in the fourth quarter, 99-88, with 3:08 left and this time didn’t lose it. In fact, they pushed it to a game-high 15, 107-92, within a couple of minutes.
“We seem to reach a comfort zone sometimes,” Schuler said after the Clippers improved to 11-15. “It’s a chance to try and extend the lead, but then we let people back in the game and always seem to get into some struggle. I thought we had a chance to run more and extend the lead, not make it so tough an evening. But we got the win, and that’s the important thing.”
Sacramento’s Ralph Sampson, who went 40 minutes Saturday at Seattle after not playing at all in the previous 12 games, made his first start since early last season. He played 14 minutes in only his seventh appearance of the season. . . . The latest trade rumor gone wild is Danny Manning and a No. 1 to Detroit for Isiah Thomas.