This wasn’t a gym, it was a nightclub.
The air was smoky. The music was thumping. The crammed crowd was filled with crooked red caps and baggy red shirts and attitude.
This wasn’t the Clippers. This was the Clippahhhs.
Players screamed from the scoreboard. Cheerleaders shook their tattoos from midcourt. Seemingly every corner of Staples Center was howling and high-fiving Friday at the home opener of the hippest basketball team on the planet.
Then the game started.
Then the place really went into beast mode.
“Rise up!” shouted public address announcer Dave Courtney, and so they did, the fans and the Clippers alike, creating a memorable first scene in this sizzling new drama.
First basket: Blake Griffin made a move that buckled the knees of the Chicago Bulls’ Joakim Noah and turned it into a two-handed slam dunk.
Second basket: Griffin swaggered around Carlos Boozer for a layup.
Third basket: Mo Williams drained a three-pointer from the corner.
Less than two minute into the game, the Clippers led, 7-0, and the place didn’t stop rocking until the tightrope-walking home team finally tumbled to the more fundamentally sound Bulls, 114-101.
Yes, the Clippers are now 1-2 with losses to two established veteran powerhouses. Yes, there is much mechanical work to be done with what Coach Vinny Del Negro calls “a lot of moving parts.”
But, goodness, if you are one of the folks holding season tickets that have been sold out for the first time in Clippers history, don’t give them up. Check that. You can always sell them to me.
On a night when the Clippers showcased their new thrill-ride lineup in front what will be a season full of Staples sellouts, the message on those red giveaway shirts said it all.
Game on, for new guard Chris Paul, new superstar Blake Griffin, newborn center DeAndre Jordan, and newly energized Caron Butler.
Game on, for a team so entertaining, you don’t want to take your eyes from the court even long enough to check out the scoreboard. Here’s guessing it was halftime before many ooohing fans even realized the Clippers were trailing.
“I guarantee you we’ll have a lot of fun,” Paul promised the crowd in a midcourt greeting before the game.
Even in a loss, he was true to his word, and when could the Clippers ever say that?
Yes, there were Griffin slams, including one as he was falling backward after a bounce pass from Paul. Yes, there was CP3 magic, Paul dribbling around forever before driving to the basket and scoring, a one-man shot clock.
But there were also Jordan blocks that sailed into the delighted hands of stunned spectators. There were fluttering three-pointers by Williams and Butler and Randy Foye off impossible passes from Paul.
It was so crazy, late in the first quarter, after the whistle, Butler casually threw up a halfcourt shot to earn a delay-of-game warning and, yeah, you guessed it. Swish.
For the record, the first alley-oop in this place now known as Lob City occurred with 6:03 left in the first quarter when Butler threw up a pass that the left-handed Jordan slammed down with his right hand in such powerful fashion even the big kid ooohed.
Of course, amid all this excitement, there are issues. Del Negro has his hands full with a team that seems so intent on making the big play, they forget to do the little things.
The Clippers’ quest for glitter has sometimes come at the expense of grunt work, as they have been continually beaten inside and thus outrebounded in all three games. Those grand attempts at blocked shots are not great rebounding techniques.
They also don’t seem to have figured out an offense, as sometimes they simply stand around waiting for somebody to do something spectacular. On Friday, while the Clippers were flying, the Bulls were forcing, leading to a 34-20 advantage in free throws attempted.
Then there are potential internal issues. Late in the first quarter, after Williams missed a shot on a fastbreak, Butler shouted to him to “Pass the ball!” The two players exchanged words at the other end of the court, which makes it even more important to address the Williams situation now.
After spending the lockout acting as a team leader, Williams is clearly not happy suddenly coming off the bench. He has been feeling so ignored lately, it was perhaps no surprise that during pregame introductions Friday, he was accidentally introduced as the injured Chauncey Billups. The Clippers need to either figure out a way to make him happy here, or trade him for a backup big man.
In the meantime, they need to work on turning all these wows into wins
“We’re going to try to make this a season you won’t forget,” Griffin told the fans in another pregame midcourt message.
One night at the club, and it already is.