Clippers Beat Jazz, Clinch Winning Season
L.A. Clippers 106, Utah 91
LOS ANGELES, March 31 (Ticker) -- Elton Brand and Sam Cassell finally made the Los Angeles Clippers winners.
Brand and Cassell scored 22 points apiece as the Clippers clinched their first winning season in 14 years with a 106-91 triumph over the Utah Jazz.
"We have a winning record and that is a big thing for us," Brand said. "It feels good, but we still have a lot more to accomplish. It is a milestone we want to check off. I am just glad the organization has put the pieces around us so that we can learn and compete at the highest level."
"Just having a winning season is a lot for many in the organization," Cassell said. "I am looking forward to getting in the playoffs and trying our best to advance. I am going to do my best to take this team. We are still in the tunnel but we see some light. We need to keep striding and keep going and I think we can accomplish that."
The offseason acquisition of Cassell is regarded as one of the biggest reasons Los Angeles is in the postseason hunt, but Cassell gave a lot of the credit to Brand, one of the leading candidates for the MVP.
"People tend to give me a lot of credit for getting this big turnaround, but there are guys on this team that had to sacrifice what they have been doing," he said. "Elton Brand is our horse. As he goes, we go."
It was a tough setback for the Jazz (34-38), who fell 2 1/2 games behind Sacramento (37-36) for the eighth and final playoff spot out West.
"We just have to start winning," Utah forward Andrei Kirilenko said. "Every game is important. We still have chances. We're still in the race. Win, no matter how. That is all there is to it."
The Clippers built a 10-point lead late in the first half behind Cassell, who scored 18 points before the break. His free throws with 2:15 to go in the second quarter made it 49-39.
However, the Jazz closed the half with a 13-4 run, capped by a 3-pointer by Keith McLeod that shaved their deficit to 53-52 after 24 minutes.
"Coach (Mike Dunleavy) said at halftime how disappointed he was of us," Brand said. "We had two big spurts and we were up by (10), but we let them slip back up."
Brand broke a 57-57 deadlock with 9:14 left in the third period with a free throw that gave Los Angeles the lead for good, but the Clippers did not pull away until a 12-3 burst made it 72-62 at the 4:41 mark of the session.
"We were still in the ballgame at halftime, it was a one-point game," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "They got in our face a little bit harder (in the beginning of third quarter) and went after us a little harder and we didn't stand up to it.
"That is what has happened to us all year when we have gotten into those situations. We've played well for a little while and whenever it becomes time for us to win a game we have a tendency to completely fall away."
Corey Maggette scored six of his 13 points in the charge for the Clippers, who increased their lead to 82-69 at the end of the third quarter.
Mehmet Okur collected 18 points and 10 rebounds and Kirilenko added 17 points for Utah, which never seriously threatened Los Angeles in the final period.
"All of a sudden we quit executing," Okur said. "We started to turn the ball over and gave them what they wanted - easy baskets and fast-break points."