LOOKING BACK AT THE CLIPPERS' 1992-93 PLAYOFF TEAM
After coming up short in Utah in 1991-92, the Clippers could have easily stood pat with their roster. All of the key rotation players remained under contract and the advantage of continuity could have been reasonably justified.
But two weeks before training camp opened, the Clippers made a move that was an aggressive statement about trying to win.
On Sept. 22, 1992 as part of a three-way deal, they traded Doc Rivers, Charles Smith and Bo Kimble, two-fifths of the starting five from the previous year, to the Knicks for former St. Johns star and NBA veteran Mark Jackson. The Orlando Magic were the third party involved, swapping center Stanley Roberts for two first-round picks (one each from New York and the Clippers).
The deal did not come without controversy.
Roberts had signed a five-year offer sheet with Dallas in July, but Orlando matched it and when trade talk ramped up a few months later, Roberts accused the Magic of being disingenuous.
They told me when they signed me they werent going to trade me, Roberts told the St. Petersburg Times on August 30, 1992.
Acquiring Roberts altered the Clippers roster in two ways. First, it gave them a legitimate, big-bodied center. At the time, the league was dominated by pivot players, particularly David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon in the Western Conference. Roberts, who played one season with Shaquillle ONeal at LSU and was considered by their college coach, Dale Brown, to be the more formidable pro prospect of the two, seemed like an outstanding fit match-up wise. Second, he helped the Clippers keep their roster on the upswing. Roberts was drafted 23rd overall in 1991 and was only 22 when he arrived in Los Angeles.
The Los Angeles Times opined that the Clippers had surrendered proven for potential. And the feeling around the league was that the moves could be viewed only one of two ways: boom or bust.
Either way, the roster was set with Jackson and Ron Harper in the backcourt and Danny Manning, who was thought to be entering his prime, and Ken Norman flanking Roberts in the middle. Gary Grant would become the primary guard off the bench with Loy Vaught taking on a more integral role up front.
Grant, who was a key rotation player on both teams, liked the makeup of the team.
I loved the big guys running the floor Ken Norman was one of my favorites along with Danny Manning and I would hit them running the floor and they would get some great dunks, he said. I was also a little flashy to the point where I tried to get the crowd involved. I liked to do that. Sometimes that flashy play would get me in a little trouble, but that is how I played.
In hindsight, there is no way to know how the trade affected the team during the regular season or whether things may have been different with Smith and Rivers.
According to Clippers broadcaster Ralph Lawler, This was still a good team, but it did not continue to grow as many thought it would. They were a .500 team pretty much the entire season.
After starting the season 0-3, the team was never more than four games over or under .500. They never had a winning or losing streak longer than four games. They suffered from internal friction between Manning and Brown, who, always the vagabond, seemed to be openly searching for a new job.
The chemistry between Coach Brown and All-Star forward Danny Manning deteriorated and mitigated the team's potential, Lawler said.
On the court, the team had few signature wins, particularly in the first three months of the season, but still swept the Knicks, the Easts best team. As late March rolled around the Clippers showed improvement. Most evident was that when they played at a high level, Los Angeles was an extremely dangerous opponent.
They defeated Utah, 107-100, at the Sports Arena on March 20, 1993, getting double figure scoring from six players, including all five starters. Roberts, who picked up what was an almost customary five fouls, scored 20 points to lead the way and blocked five shots.
It was not a coincidence that when Roberts played well, the Clippers usually won. Manning and Harper were both go-to players with guys like Norman and Jackson complimenting them well. Roberts was the potential difference makerand that was part of the problem as the Clippers, inconsistent in the regular season headed into the playoffs.
The Houston Rockets entered the series with a 55-27 record and went 4-0 against the Clippers (41-41) in the regular season. Coach Larry Brown told the Houston Chronicle that if the four losses to Houston were a playoff preview the Clippers were in big trouble.
After Game 1, Brown looked to be correct.
The Rockets, in Coach Rudy Tomjanovichs first playoff game, obliterated the Clippers in the first quarter, jumping out to a 33-18 lead. Mark Jackson scored 26 points, but Harper was limited to 1-of-8 shooting in 16 minutes and left early with a knee injury. Olajuwon, a leading MVP candidate, scored 28 points with 11 rebounds, nine blocks, six assists, and four steals, and the Rockets won handily, 117-94.
But unlike the Utah series in 1992, the Clippers avoided coming home down 0-2.
In what Brown called an amazing performance, Harper returned to the lineup two days after spraining a ligament in his knee to start and play an inspiring 39 minutes. Whether it was a Willis Reed moment or not, Harper had the kind of all-around impact Olajuwon put forth in Game 1, dropping 29 points with six boards, four blocks, and three steals.
The difference was a 25-6 run in the third quarter in which L.A. scored on 13 of its 16 possessions.
(R): Larry Brown
We probably had the best six or seven minutes of defense this team has ever played, Brown told Scott Howard-Cooper of the Los Angeles Times after his teams 95-83 win.
Heading back to Los Angeles, the series had clearly turned in the Clippers favor. They had won nine of 10 at the Sports Arena. And they faced the proposition of taking the lead in a playoff series for the first time since they were the Buffalo Braves.
But the Rockets, again, started quickly and regained control with a 111-99 victory.
We played about like we had played all year, Brown said after Game 3. One night we play great, the next we wont be able to sustain it.
Part of what Brown was alluding to was the difference in defensive field goal percentage. In Game 2, the Clippers held Houston to 31.5 percent shooting from the field as opposed to 53.6 percent in Game 3. It didnt help that Roberts was limited with foul trouble throughout the night, allowing for another dominant performance from Olajuwon.
Roberts came back with a purpose, though, in Game 4. The big man scored a personal playoff-high 20 points with 13 rebounds after taking a great deal of criticism for the lackluster effort the previous outing.
Still, the Clippers, who had committed just six turnovers to offset a poor shooting night, would have their season come down to free throws, a place they had struggled mightily at times.
When needed, though, Jackson delivered. With the score tied at 90 and 33 seconds to go, the point guard made one of two from the line, giving L.A. a 91-90 advantage. After the Rockets missed three shots on the opposite end, including a spinning 12-footer by Olajuwon, Jackson grabbed the rebound. Again, he stepped to the line, but this time sank both shots.
Rockets guard Scott Brooks missed a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer. Final score: Clippers 93, Rockets 90.
"The effort we had tonight was incredible and I couldn't let it go to waste," said Jackson.
The series was full of momentum swings, tension, and general oddities (Norman, for example, a 14 percent 3-point shooter on the season went 3-for-8 from downtown in the five games). However, for all of the lopsided quarters and amazing defense, the wild final minutes of Game 5 (See introduction to Part 1 for additional details) was likely one of the most enthralling and disappointing moments in Clippers history.
Mannings runner and Harpers finger roll were swamped by Vernon Maxwells dagger three. It was made all the more improbable as Kenny Smith dribbled around for nearly 18 seconds, almost discombobulated, before finding Maxwell in the corner for what turned out to be the series clinching shot.
After the game, a heartbreaking, 84-80, loss, Brown said, "We've been through a lot this year. A lot of it hasn't been really nice or fun, but the effort the last part of the season and what happened in the playoffs meant a lot to a lot of people,
Because of the teams inconsistency, and what Lawler termed as chemistry that just never clicked it would be a stretch to deem the season magical or even wonderful, yet looking back, Grant felt like they still should have done more.
I liked playing for Coach Larry Brown, he said. It is a shame, as we could have built something better than we did.
Shortly thereafter, the Manning-era Clippers disappeared, somewhat like a magic parlor act that never fully delivers the turn. It was a promising run, but there was certain feeling, like Grant suggested, of what could have been.
1992-93 Western Conference First Round (April 29 May 8)
No. 7 Clippers vs. No. 2 Houston
Danny Manning, SF: After a superstar-caliber regular season, where he scored 10 or more points in all 79 games, a lot was expected of Manning in the playoffs. He was limited to 25 points combined in the first two games in Houston, but like the season before against Utah, he had a monster Game 5.
Ken Norman, PF: On an inconsistent team, Norman was the one constant. The 28-year-old forward averaged 12.8 points and 8.2 rebounds in the five playoff games, almost identical numbers to the year before.
Stanley Roberts, C: There was definitely a connection between the second-year center playing well and the Clippers two wins in the series. He scored 20 points with 13 rebounds in Game 4, which somewhat countered Olajuwons amazing 20 points, 18 rebounds, nine assists, and five blocks. In the three losses, Roberts managed only 20 points combined.
Ron Harper, SG: Harpers performance is Game 2 was the stuff of legend. Two days after spraining a knee ligament, he started, played 39 minutes, and scored 29 points with six rebounds, four blocks and three steals in the Clippers upset victory.
Mark Jackson, PG: Coming off five consecutive playoff seasons in New York, Jackson played big minutes in the series. Oddly, he scored more than 20 points in two games, both double-digit wins for the Rockets.
Lester Conner: A 6-foot-4 guard out of Oregon State, Conner had a brilliant shooting effort in the Game 3 loss, going 4-for-4 from the field for 10 points in just 14 minutes.
Gary Grant: The General shot poorly in the series (32.3%) but tallied 23 assists and just seven turnovers in 20.2 minutes per game off the bench.
Loy Vaught: The always likeable Vaught was third on the team in minutes off the bench (16.7), but never really got going in the series. The fact that he led the team in bench points with 5.3 per game, was indicative of how woeful the Clippers reserves performed.
John Williams: The undersized Williams, a 6-8 center, was forced to play more than Brown had hoped with Roberts often in foul trouble. With Olajuwon frequently guarding him, Williams wound up 4-for-18 shooting in more than 19 minutes per game.
Jaren Jackson: Jackson committed more fouls (6) than field goals made (5), averaging seven minutes as a reserve small forward. Of course, several years later the Georgetown alum would go on to win a title with the Spurs as a fine defender and 3-point specialist.