The Clippers had just completed their morning shoot-around in preparation for Friday’s game against Toronto at Air Canada Centre and Jeff McInnis sat alone on a courtside seat.
But before he could finish putting on his sweats, veteran power forward Charles Oakley took the court for the Raptors’ workout and, while holding a basketball in his left hand, walked directly over to an unsuspecting McInnis and delivered a right hook to McInnis’ face, with a fist that was adorned with an oversized ring.
Total chaos ensued. Players from both teams jumped to separate the two, and even though no more punches were thrown, it set the stage for the Raptors’ wild, 104-95 overtime victory over the Clippers before 18,470.
The Clippers blew a nine-point lead in the final 1:22 of regulation and then were outscored, 11-2, in overtime as the Raptors won without Vince Carter, who missed his third consecutive game because of a left quadriceps injury, and Oakley, who was suspended by the NBA for three games without pay and fined $15,000.
Point guard Mark Jackson led Toronto with 20 points and 15 assists. Quentin Richardson had 20 points and Lamar Odom had 17 points and nine rebounds for the Clippers, who missed 19 of 34 free throws. McInnis, who played with slight swelling on the left side of his face, had eight points and four assists but fouled out in 38 minutes.
“Most of the players on [the Raptors] asked me [during the game] if I was all right. They knew it wasn’t right,” said McInnis, who has referred the matter to his attorney. “I’m not going to talk about it. It’s over.”
Considering Oakley will earn $5.89 million this season, he cost himself roughly $220,000 for his cheap shot.
“I don’t know the situation but I did speak to Oakley briefly,” Toronto General Manager Glen Grunwald said. “He didn’t offer any insights.”
According to sources who know both players, Oakley and McInnis have been at odds over a personal matter since last summer. Reportedly, it involved a relationship with a woman who knows them both.
The Clippers were pleased the NBA took quick action against Oakley.
“It was an incident that needed to be dealt with,” Clipper Coach Alvin Gentry said. “We tried to do it the proper way by just calling the NBA office and letting them handle it.”
This is not the first time Oakley has done something like this. Reportedly, he hit Philadelphia 76er forward Tyrone Hill before a preseason game in North Carolina earlier this season because he was owed money.
Because one team was leaving the floor while the other was getting ready, no one saw Oakley coming.
“It was something that happened so quickly, everybody was standing around but I don’t think everyone saw how it went down,” Gentry said. “Jeff is halfway up [out of his seat] and [Oakley] punches the guy.”
McInnis tried to retaliate twice before coaches and teammates were able to get him on the team bus.
Oakley, who went on to shoot free throws after punching McInnis, told reporters he only wanted to talk basketball and that it was a personal matter. He did not show up for the game.
“You have to give hats off to Horace Balmer [senior vice president] of NBA security] and Stu Jackson [senior vice president of NBA basketball operations] because they did handle it the right way,” Gentry said.
“I have to think that at some point if it wasn’t handled properly . . . somebody might have gotten hurt. I am not saying that we would have intentionally gone out there and try and hurt somebody, but if you have those two guys on the court. . . . Jeff McInnis is a very proud guy and a very competitive guy.”
McInnis did not have one of his better games, missing 10 of 13 field-goal attempts.
“I just couldn’t make any shots and I had wide-open looks,” said McInnis, who missed a crucial free throw with 11.4 seconds left in regulation. “I made a three-[point basket] early and I was feeling real good. . . . I was focused on the game. I put that other stuff aside. I just wanted to win because I felt they were at a disadvantage without a couple of their players.”
Added Gentry: “I thought Jeff had shots that were very makable and he just didn’t get them in the basket. Those are shots he has taken all year.”
Although McInnis did not have a good game statistically, he gained some respect from the veteran-dominated Raptors for his handling of the situation with Oakley.
“It was a tough day for everybody,” Toronto forward Antonio Davis said. “No one ever wants something like that to happen. I have to give the young fellow [McInnis] a lot of credit for shaking it off and coming out and playing a good game of basketball. . . . You have to give their whole team a lot of credit because they really came out and fought. They are a young team and you would expect them to come out and react a little differently. But they came out with a lot of enthusiasm and played well. The reason why we won was because we’ve been [in tight games before].”
Something the Clippers have experienced from the wrong side a lot this season.
* TORONTO 104, CLIPPERS 95 (OT)
Raptors, minus Oakley and Carter, were ripe for defeat, but L.A. could not take advantage. D7