With Dayton, Ohio, native Ron Harper scoring a game-high 23 points and Canton's Gary Grant hitting two crucial free throws down the stretch, the state of the Clippers was upgraded to .500 for the young season, thanks to the 106-105 victory before 10,533.
Harper said games against his former team no longer hold special significance, but they do to some. Six friends called from Ohio on Saturday to wish him luck.
"I got past the hurt and frustration and just came out and took it as if this was any other game," Harper said of the deal that sent him to the Clippers in November of 1989. "I don't hold any grudges."
He won't hold this game high in his mind, either. Harper's own analysis was that he "stunk." Game-high points or not, he was quick to point out the eight-for-23 shooting, including one of six in the fourth quarter.
The Clippers (1-1) held on anyway, with Ken Norman scoring seven of his 19 points the final 12 minutes. After losing a close game the night before at Sacramento, they squared their record in more ways than one.
Winning a fourth consecutive home opener, the Clippers never trailed. They did, however, lose a 98-91 lead.
Cleveland (0-2) tied the game, 102-102, on Henry James' three-point jump shot from the left side with 2:22 to play, but couldn't pass the Clippers. Two free throws by Grant--a Cavalier fan while growing up--with 2:05 left made it 104-102 and put the Clippers ahead for good.
But the Cavaliers stayed within three points the rest of the way and had a final chance to win. Trailing, 106-105, after Danny Manning added a four-foot hook for the Clippers, the Cavaliers called time out with 2.2 seconds to play. With time for little more than a desperation shot, three-point specialist Steve Kerr got the ball, dribbled in a few steps and launched a 30-footer from the right side at the buzzer.
The shot hit the front of the rim, then the back--but stayed out.
"Maybe the little breaks are going our way this year," Grant said. "Last year, that probably would have gone in."
The offensive stupor that hurt the Clippers so much against Sacramento was gone 24 hours later, when they scored 57 points to lead by four at halftime. That's 19 points better than in the opener.
In the meantime, Sports Arena fans re-introduced themselves to Danny Ferry, as if he could forget last season's appearance. Again, there was booing, from the moment the former Clipper draftee stepped off the bench with 1:40 to play in the first quarter to check in, and then every time he touched the ball the rest of the night.
That wasn't saying much, though. Ferry, trying to improve on a rookie season filled with struggles, played only four minutes, all in the first half.
The Clippers' free-throw problems disappeared, too. After Manning missed the first two attempts of the game, they converted the next 21, a run of marathon proportions for them. They finished 29 of 36 (80.6%) and committed only 11 turnovers.
Doc Rivers missed his second game because of a strained lower back, which made his start to the 1991-92 season all the more unusual. Not only is he not playing, but for the first time since he became a pro in 1983, he is not with the Atlanta Hawks. "It is a strange feeling," he said. "I don't know if left out is the right way to describe it. The toughest part is now knowing I'm not apart of the Hawks anymore. I was talking to someone today and said 'us' three times when speaking about Atlanta. Obviously that will go away, but it's still a very big part of me. As far as playing, though, I'm a full-blooded Clipper." Rivers' rehabilitation is aided in that the Clippers don't play again until going to the Forum Tuesday.
The recovery of Cleveland's Mark Price from reconstructive knee surgery is going so well that he is not even wearing a brace while practicing and scrimmaging with the team and doesn't plan to once activated. No timetable has been set for his return to action, but the best estimate is mid-December. The Cavaliers went into Saturday's game with a 24-43 record since Price, a former all-star, tore ligaments in his left knee.