That red carpet must be here somewhere, maybe next to the key to the city. Want to make the Clippers feel welcome, after all.
Houstonites and their Midwest Division-champion Rockets could hardly be blamed for feeling that way, not after beating the Clippers for the 15th consecutive time at the Summit. Not after building an 18-point lead in the second quarter, holding off a mini-rally in the third and thumping the Clippers, 117-94, on Thursday night in the opening game of the first-round playoff series.
“It’s not five in a row. It’s 0-1,” Clipper Coach Larry Brown said.
Brown might be right in stressing that the playoffs are different than the regular season, but this looked a lot like the regular season, when the Rockets won all four meetings with the Clippers. In fact, it looked worse in some respects.
The Rockets shot 62.7%, a franchise playoff record.
The Rockets made as many three-pointers (six) as the Clippers tried.
Hakeem Olajuwon had 28 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, four steals and nine blocked shots, the latter the third-best mark in NBA postseason history.
“There wasn’t much effort from the Clippers,” Rocket Carl Herrera said.
Even the distractions were painful. Ron Harper sprained his right knee after hitting his leg against the padded basket standard after blocking Kenny Smith’s attempted layup and is doubtful for Game 2.
Harper was in obvious pain under the basket as play went the other way with about four minutes remaining in the first half. After getting up, he walked slowly to the Clipper bench at the other end. He sat out the final 3:27 of the half, but was on the court as the third quarter began.
He lasted two Clipper possessions before motioning to be taken out, then went to the locker room. The team’s second-leading scorer was back for the start of the fourth quarter--in street clothes.
“I don’t think it’s anything major,” team physician Tony Daly said. “The question is whether he will play Saturday and Monday. That is they key--is he going to be ready?”
The Clippers will know more today, after seeing if the joint swells overnight and looking at X-rays. Daly, meanwhile, is calling it a “bad enough sprain,” saying it is unlikely Harper will play Saturday night and being a little extra cautious because it is the same knee Harper had reconstructive surgery on in January of 1990.
The Rockets, having lost a large portion of their 51-33 lead, much of which came from their 65% shooting in the first half, led, 59-51, when Harper left for good. The Clippers cut the deficit to 61-57 after Danny Manning’s driving layin with 8:28 to play in the third quarter capped a 10-2 Clipper run.
The Clippers were given the shake soon after. They had, in order, a missed three-pointer by Ken Norman with Olajuwon isolated on defense away from the basket, a traveling call against Gary Grant, a missed jumper by Grant, a bad pass by John Williams and two missed free throws by Stanley Roberts. The Rockets had, in short order, an 84-64 lead.
“I thought when we had it down to 12 at halftime with us getting 54 shots and them shooting 65% and Danny in foul trouble, I felt that we were real fortunate,” Brown said.
“When we came back and cut it to five, I thought we had a chance. Then we took some horrendous shots. We talked about that kind of thing, one, before the game and, two, at halftime. Then we took two or three right in a row and went from five or six or seven down, and the game was over.”
The Rockets did not slow down--unless you count going 74% the first quarter and dropping to 57%, 58% and 63% in the last three. Otis Thorpe was eight of nine, Kenny Smith seven of nine and made both of his three-point attempts.
“If they shot all the time the way they shot (Thursday night),” Brown said, “they’ll win the NBA championship.”
The Clippers, meanwhile, are trying to remain optimistic.
“That’s not going to be the norm,” said Mark Jackson, who led the Clippers with 26 points. “That’s why it is going to get a little bit easier, because they are not going to do that every night.”
The future of the Clippers, circa 1992-93, depends on it.
* NBA PLAYOFFS
San Antonio scores the final eight points to surprise Portland in the first game of their Western Conference series. C4