LOS ANGELES -- All right, you people, everybody who predicted last summer that the Los Angeles Clippers would be the last Los Angeles sporting franchise eliminated from this years' playoffs, front and center. Don't shove, there's room up here for both of you.
Yes, friends, the Los Angeles Kings are dead, the Los Angeles Lakers will consider themselves blessed when a merciful curtain is drawn over their star-crossed season tonight, but the Clippers -- the lowly Clippers -- live to fight another day.
Their 98-88 win over the Utah Jazz at the Sports Arena in Game 3 of their best-of-five series last night was a thing of beauty and a joy forever. Or at least until tomorrow night.
Nobody is seriously suggesting that the Clippers could actually steal these last two games from Utah, which remains one of the NBA's best teams, and advance in the playoffs. But for one night at least, Larry Brown's players made the Jazz look like an out-of-step polka.
Doc Rivers drove to the basket, Danny Manning threw down shots as if he were possessed, Ron Harper flung in baskets from all over the court and Gary Grant played a controlled and disciplined passing game that left Karl Malone and his friends standing flat-footed.
And then there was James Edwards giving up his body as if he were back in Detroit, trying to protect Isiah Thomas from the dreaded Chicago Bulls again. The action came to an abrupt halt late in the first half when Edwards mixed it up with Utah's Mike Brown under the Clippers basket.
At 6-foot-10, 260 pounds, Brown might have given Al Davis, taking in the action from a courtside seat, some ideas about his potential at defensive end, so it wasn't as if Edwards was picking on any easy marks.
"He came in charging like he wanted to take me out," said Edwards about the flareup that had players, coaches and referees swarming around. "I stood up to him. We're not going to be intimidated. It's part of basketball and your emotions are up. You just can't back down."
"I thought it was a foul on me," Brown said. "Then he held me as I came down and grabbed me, which I thought was unnecessary. I thought it was flagrant."
All in all, the evening's events made the first Clippers playoff game ever held at the Sports Arena -- their first playoff game since they were in Buffalo and Gerald Ford was in the White House -- almost worth the wait.
They were so good, in fact, that you couldn't help but wonder about those entire sections of empty seats in the upper levels of the building. There have been more fans at regular-season games recently. Presumably, this game will make for some action at the box office in advance of Game 4 tomorrow night, but clearly Los Angeles has yet to be sold on the Clippers as a coming force in the NBA.
"The crowd was very, very loud," Edwards said, "They're going to have to be louder Thursday [tomorrow], though."
The Clippers seemed to pick up energy and confidence as the game wore on. For a team that lost the opening game of this series by 18 points and the second one by 11, the Clippers have come a long way.
"It takes a couple of games to learn how to win," Edwards said. "We took a couple games on the chin. That was Lesson 1 for a lot of the young guys. It takes a while. Until you've been there, you don't know what to expect."
The Clippers' versatility was what won this game for them. They beat the Jazz every which way -- when the game was whizzing up and down the court, when it slowed down to a half-court battle and when it became a physical test of strength.
Perhaps most impressive was the way the Clippers hung in when the Jazz threatened to catch them in the third quarter. Utah made several runs, closing within five points on one occasion, but the Clippers steadied themselves each time and emerged from the period having lost only two points off their 11-point halftime lead.
By the time the fourth quarter was under way, the Jazz had all but surrendered. They never got closer than the nine-point deficit they started the final period with and at one point, the Clippers led by 19.
"They already had their flight to go home," Edwards said. "I guess they're going to stay around a couple more days."