Not long after the bats began circling the court, but closer to the time the Clippers took a modest second-quarter lead Friday, the San Antonio Spurs surged swiftly and confidently.
The Clippers, like the bats, were soon driven from the scene.
San Antonio's Tim Duncan and Tony Parker ran the Clippers off the court during a 97-84 victory that was stoked by a 28-4 run that lasted from midway through the second quarter to midway through the third.
Arena workers and the Spurs' coyote mascot, armed with towels and bits of carpet, managed to scare off four wayward bats, sending them heaven knows where after they delayed the game for a few moments in the second quarter.
It's not the first time either event has transpired at San Antonio, where the Clippers' all-time record stands at 8-48. Even the Spurs' move this season from the Alamodome, where bats had taken roost in the roof, to the new SBC Center, a dark and unremarkable barn on the outskirts of nowhere, couldn't change the Clippers' fortunes.
Nor could the return of center Michael Olowokandi from a five-game layoff designed to calm the tendinitis in his left knee, which flared up this month. Olowokandi scored 20 points and had 11 rebounds in 43 minutes, but he and forward Elton Brand were powerless to halt Duncan, who scored 25 points and took 18 rebounds in 40 minutes.
Parker added 22 points and nine assists, two days after torching the Dallas Mavericks for a career-best 32 points in the Spurs' victory.
"My wind wasn't bad," Olowokandi said of playing for the first time since going on the injured list Dec. 1. "I felt OK. Hopefully, things get better for me from here."
With Olowokandi leading them, the Clippers seemed to have found their game in the second quarter. They took a 43-40 lead on his nine-foot hook shot, which happened about four minutes after the bats had entered the arena and began buzzing the court, bringing cheers and laughter from the crowd of 16,696 and concerned looks from players, coaches and referees.
"Definitely not a good sign," Brand said after scoring 16 points and taking 14 rebounds for his 19th game with 10 or more points and rebounds, though his streak of games of 20 or more points ended at seven.
The Spurs went on their 28-4 run, turning a three-point deficit into a 68-47 advantage after David Robinson's layup and free throw with 7:57 left in the third quarter. The Clippers cut the Spurs' lead to nine a couple of times. But the game had been decided by then.
"We did a great job of keeping up with them in the beginning, but once they started double-teaming us, we couldn't make passes out of the post and we didn't have good spacing," Coach Alvin Gentry said.
Meanwhile, when the Clippers double-teamed the big men, Duncan or Robinson always seemed to find an open teammate on the perimeter. Often, it was Parker, who stood without a Clipper in sight. Parker made 10 of 19 shots, including two of four from behind the three-point arc.
Olowokandi had a deft shooting touch in his return, sinking nine of 18, but he also committed six of the team's 14 turnovers.
"I think we did a great job on the interior," Olowokandi said. "But we have to get better at getting passes out to our perimeter guys. I think once we get into a rhythm and guys get more comfortable, we'll start making double-teaming less effective.
"We did a great job of staying in the game in the first half, but they hit some big shots in the third quarter and buried us."