Clippers Crawl Out of an 18-Point Hole - Pro basketball: Making 47 of 53 free throws, they rally to defeat Golden State, 127-117.

SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER, TIMES STAFF WRITER

On Reality Check Night at Oakland Coliseum Arena, everyone got to test their eyes and the boundaries of believability.

Did the Clippers really beat the Golden State Warriors, 127-117, Tuesday?

Was that really the Clippers, one of the league's worst free-throw shooting teams at 70.1%, making 47 of 53 from the line?

Did they really come back from an 18-point deficit to knock off the Pacific Division leaders at home?

Yes, yes and yes. Yes five times in a row, as a matter of fact, equaling the length of the Clippers' winning streak as they improved to 11-10, the latest they have been over .500 since moving to Los Angeles.

Amazement was everywhere.

"Eighteen points?" Golden State's Chris Mullin said disgustedly when informed of his team's lead in the second quarter. "I didn't know that."

Mullin was part of the optical illusion. He started by missing six of his first eight shots and even both free throws on the same trip to the line, an occurrence known to happen about as often as his hair gets beyond drill-sergeant specifications.

Maybe the Clippers will give him some tips. Teachers abound.

--Charles Smith, still not starting but finishing with 28 minutes, compared to 12 for Loy Vaught, made 14 of 15 from the line.

--Ron Harper went 11 of 13 to finish with a season-high 29 points.

--Doc Rivers also was 11 of 13.

"That's not us, huh?" Smith acknowledged.

But they are a team that has shown great resiliency of late, amazing considering the same Clippers were building a reputation for disappearing in the second half. This time, as their slowest non-overtime game of the season dragged on to an eventual 2 1/2-hour endurance test, the Clippers only got stronger, the Warriors only weaker.

Opening the night with 11 players, the Warriors lost starting center Tyrone Hill when he fouled out with 4:52 to play and Sarunas Marciulionis, the league's highest-scoring sixth man, when he fouled out with 3:41 left.

The Clippers, meanwhile, flourished. The truest indication of how things were going in their attempt to win for the second time in a row on the road came with 3:25 remaining:

Harper's three-pointer along the right baseline was an airball. Ken Norman caught the, uh, pass for a layup. That put the Clippers up, 114-109, and gave them command of the game, finally.

"Even when we were down 18 and then started cutting it to 14 and 12, we knew Golden State was the type of team that would let us back in the game," Smith said. "They are not the best defensive team, but they are a great, great offensive team. We just buckled down and stayed patient."

The Warriors--in the midst of a seven-game, 15-day home stand, their longest in 17 years--broke to a 16-point lead in the first quarter, 28-12. In the second, it went to 18, 48-30.

Then the comeback began.

By halftime, the Clippers had trimmed the lead to 65-58. By scoring the first basket of the third quarter, they got it down to five, the lowest since trailing, 12-8. That disappeared completely when Danny Manning's spin move on the low post put the Clippers up, 87-86.

They didn't move ahead for good until 4:52 remained. Fittingly, at the line, where Smith made two free throws to start an 8-2 surge that culminated with Norman's basket.

The Clippers used their height advantage well, especially in the second half. The 55 rebounds tied their season high, but, more important, catching the ball in deep forced Golden State to choose between fouling or allowing easy shots. The Warriors chose the former and paid.

Smith was an obvious factor. Despite Smith's play in three games since returning from arthroscopic knee surgery--including 26 points, nine rebounds and three blocks in 25 minutes of Saturday's victory over Minnesota--Coach Mike Schuler decided to wait at least one more night before putting Smith in the starting lineup. It's a move even incumbent Vaught realizes will happen.

Someday.

"I can't give you a real reason why I haven't done it," Schuler said.

Clipper Notes

The loss dropped Golden State out of first place as the Lakers won at Sacramento. . . . Ron Harper, whose average had dropped to 16 points a game before Tuesday's scoring burst, has been contributing in other ways. He had 16 steals the previous four outings. That pushed is season average to 2.40 per game, No. 7 in the league. With Doc Rivers at No. 5, the Clippers are the only team to have two players in the top 10. "Almost anybody can score in this league," Harper said. "You can always score. But if I play a good game, I look at how many steals I got." Twice this season he has had five and four on four other occasions, and the last eight games is averaging 3.38.

Lanard Copeland, waived by the Clippers when Charles Smith came off the injured list, is expected to join the Rapid City Thrillers of the Continental Basketball Assn. today.

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