By Keri Nelson
The 4-9 Clippers returned to Staples Center on Sunday to face the 7-4 Rockets, after a disappointing loss in Denver at Pepsi Center on Friday where they squandered a 16-point lead and James Posey's corner jumper at the buzzer gave the Nuggets the 72-70 win.
True to fashion, the Clippers were strong coming out of the gate against the Rockets, taking a 17-point lead into the middle of the second quarter with Elton Brand scoring a season-high 26 points and grabbing 16 rebounds. And yet again, the tables turned and they found themselves fighting back from an 8-point deficit.
The Clippers were down by six points with 1:13 left in the game and managed to chip away at the Rockets lead to be within one point with less than two seconds left when Eric Piatkowski hit a 14-foot running jump shot that flirted with the rim for what seemed like hours. The ball bounced around above the rim and seemed to be about to go in when Houston center, Yao Ming tipped the ball into the basket. Although international rules dictate that the ball would have been live, the NBA rules state differently and Yao was called for goaltending and the Clippers led 90-89 with 1.4 seconds left. The Rockets were able to get off a final shot, but Steve Francis who led all scorers with 31 points, 10 assists and 6 rebounds missed an off-balance attempt at the buzzer, giving the Clippers their fifth win of the season.
The victory may have taken a lot of weight off the Clippers shoulders. "The big thing is that we hung in there and found a way to win the game," said coach Alvin Gentry. "Hopefully this win will be a springboard for us - we needed to have something positive happen to us."
"We talked about how we wanted to be aggressive," said Piatkowski. "We didn't panic and that's a sign of a more mature ball club. We have a talented club and we should have won more games. When you're not winning games, you're not a lot of fun. When you're winning, your breakfast tastes better - everything. Even as an NBA player, you don't have many opportunities to hit a game winner and it's been a couple of years since I've hit one."
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