Danny Manning returned after sitting out 16 days because of a cracked left ring finger, but not even Manning, who had 29 points, could help the Clippers overcome a 22-point first-half deficit against the Houston Rockets.
Off to the third-best start in NBA history with 13 consecutive victories, the Rockets held off the Clippers, 82-80, as center Hakeem Olajuwon scored 15 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and made the winning shot before 13,807 at the Sports Arena on Saturday night.
With the score tied at 79, Olajuwon, who missed 12 of his 16 shots, made a 14-foot baseline shot with 22.5 seconds remaining to give the Rockets the lead.
The Clippers called time out to set up a play, but guard Ron Harper missed a three-point shot from the right side with 10 seconds left. Rocket forward Robert Horry, who controlled the rebound, sank one of two free throws after being fouled by Mark Aguirre with 8.6 seconds left.
Forward Henry James had a chance to win it for the Clippers, but he missed a three-pointer from the right corner with 4.3 seconds remaining. Harper got the rebound and was fouled by Olajuwon with 1.6 seconds left. After making the first free throw, Harper intentionally missed the second to give the Clippers a shot at the victory. But the Clippers were called for a lane violation.
Trailing by 64-59 going into the final quarter, the Clippers outscored the Rockets 15-10 in the first eight minutes of the fourth quarter to pull to 74-71 when Manning made two free throws with 4:08 remaining.
Manning's four-foot baseline shot with 2:29 remaining cut the deficit to 79-77 and he tied the score on a 20-foot shot from the left side with 1:16 remaining.
The Clippers had a chance to take the lead after Mario Elie missed a three-point shot with 50 seconds left, but Manning missed a turnaround shot in the key over Otis Thrope with 37.8 seconds remaining.
Trailing by 48-35 at halftime, the Clippers outscored Houston by 24-16 in the third quarter to pull within 64-59 going into the fourth quarter. The Rockets shot only 25% in the third quarter, missing 12 of 16 shots.
The Clippers were booed off the court at the end of the first quarter after they missed 13 of their first 15 shots and fell behind by 30-10. Houston built its big lead despite the fact that Olajuwon didn't score in the first quarter. The Rockets out-rebounded the Clippers, 19-4, in the first 12 minutes.
Trailing by 41-20, the Clippers outscored the Rockets 22-9 at the end of the second quarter and the beginning of the third quarter to cut the deficit to 50-44. Manning, who was on the bench when the game started but started the second half, had 13 points in the spurt.
Manning, who was cleared to play after being examined Wednesday by Dr. Norman Zemel, returned after sitting out six games because of two cracks in his left ring finger. However, he didn't start Saturday night because he had a cold.
"Personally, I don't think it will heal until the season ends," Manning said of the finger. "But I can't worry about that. I feel I'm healthy enough to play. So that's that."
Said Trainer Keith Jones: "They said it was healed, and that's all I know. It's going to be sore if somebody pops it, but his other hand would be sore if somebody hit it, too."
Manning declined to wear a protective device because he didn't want opponents to know exactly where the injury was located. However, he did tape two fingers together.
"It's a calling signal," Manning said. . . . I'm not going to wear nothing if I don't have to. If I get hit, maybe I might have to wear it."
To make room for Danny Manning on the 12-man roster, the Clippers placed guard Randy Woods on the injured list. . . . Forward Tom Tolbert sat out the game because of flu.