Clippers Show Ugly Side
If the Clippers were starting to feel a little full of themselves before Tuesday night’s game, they probably feel a little differently today.
Their four-game winning streak was as good as gone before halftime, the Cleveland Cavaliers building a 28-point second-quarter lead that carried them to a 103-95 victory in front of 16,176 in Gund Arena.
Also gone before halftime was point guard Marko Jaric, whose first start of the season was cut short when he felt something pop in his left foot.
Jaric, starting in place of Keyon Dooling after a string of strong relief efforts, played only 14 minutes, scoring five points on two-of-three shooting, before leaving because of what the Clippers described as a strained left arch.
As he and his teammates flew to Indianapolis for tonight’s game against the Eastern Conference-leading Indiana Pacers, Jaric was scheduled for an MRI exam today, and the club was trying to make arrangements to send him home.
“I hope it’s nothing serious,” he said, but the preternaturally pessimistic Serb feared the worst. “It could be long-term out.”
With Elton Brand sidelined because of a broken right foot, the Clippers already were short-handed, but that hadn’t stopped them from winning four in a row after an 0-2 start against the Seattle SuperSonics last month in Japan.
Hoping to stretch the streak to five games, which would have been their longest in eight years, and remain unbeaten in the United States, they flew into Cleveland on Monday night for what figured to be the most winnable game of a three-game trip that ends Saturday against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
But they made only 21.2% of their shots in the first half, the Cavaliers made 53.5% and the Cavalier lead was 58-30 a minute before halftime.
The Clippers cut the deficit to six points in the fourth quarter, keeping the crowd in the building probably a little longer than it had planned, but their first-half miscues were too numerous and too costly to overcome.
“It’s a young team,” Coach Mike Dunleavy said of the Clippers, “but I expect more from them than what I got tonight, and I told them that after the game. I’m going to keep pushing them to be better than what they showed me.”
Cavalier rookie LeBron James set the tone in the first minute, driving uncontested through the lane to throw down a net-rippling dunk. It was the first of five dunks for the Cavaliers in the game’s opening 7 1/2 minutes.
“I don’t think that we were ready to play,” said Clipper guard Quentin Richardson, who missed his first 10 shots, none of them dunks. “I don’t know why. It was like we came out [unfocused]. We can’t really afford to do that.
“You can’t afford to give nobody in the NBA a lead like that to start off with. That’s what happens when you give somebody a head start like that.”
Guard Ricky Davis led the Cavaliers with 27 points and reserve forward Chris Mihm, filling in after starter Carlos Boozer suffered a sprained right ankle in the first quarter, scored a career-high 21 on 10-of-14 shooting.
The 18-year-old James, though he made only six of 16 shots, strung together another respectable line: 14 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.
Predrag Drobnjak, replaced in the starting lineup by rookie Chris Kaman, scored 20 points and took a career-high 13 rebounds for the Clippers and sparked the second-half comeback, scoring 14 points after halftime.
“He picked it up both offensively and defensively for us,” Dunleavy said. “I liked the way he responded. He was the catalyst that gave us a chance.”
Corey Maggette scored 19 points but made only four of 18 shots.
Richardson scored 17 on six-of-20 shooting and Eddie House had 12 in 16 minutes.
None of them, however, could stop the streak from ending.
“Sooner or later,” Maggette said, “it was going to happen.”