The last time the Clippers played with fans in the stands to witness it was March 10, on the eve of the NBA shutdown following Utah center Rudy Gobert’s positive coronavirus test.

They thwacked the Golden State Warriors at Chase Center that spring night, in front of a crowd that was announced as 18,064 but reported by the Associated Press to be noticeably smaller than normal, with large pockets of empty seats reflecting the growing concern over the spreading pandemic. “I was surprised,” then-Clippers coach Doc Rivers said, “it was that many fans.”

On Friday, after about 10 months — and 26 games of varying import in a bubble, plus three preseason games and five regular-season contests so far in cavernous, fan-less NBA arenas this season — the Clippers again performed before a live, paying audience.

The Utah Jazz’s Vivint Arena was one of six NBA teams’ arenas that opened the season allowing some fans. In their home opener against Minnesota on Dec. 26, a reported 1,932 fans were in attendance.

Jazz guard Mike Conley told reporters afterward that having them there presented some normalcy that has been missing: “I’m not gonna lie, it was a breath of fresh air for all of us,” he said. “It sounded like there were a lot more. It was great to have them in the building, it was great to have our families. It was a great atmosphere.”

Utah’s coach Quin Snyder said he most felt fans’ presence in his team’s first two home games — both losses — prior to tip-off.

“I’ve noticed it before the game, whether it be in the warmups or during introductions or things like that,” he said in a pregame Zoom video conference Friday. “When the game starts, you don’t feel it as much, your focus is on the court anyway.”

ESPN’s Bobby Marks theorized this week that, without crowds to provide energy at most arenas, home teams are waving the white flag sooner when they get down by double digits. As evidence, he pointed to a handful of lopsided results, including the Clippers’ 51-point defeat at Staples Center on Sunday.

 

To their credit, the Clippers dismissed missing fans as a contributing factor to the franchise’s worst defeat.

“I mean it will always be weird,” the Clippers’ Paul George said after that game. “But I think that is an excuse that we can’t use because we should be used to that by now. We went through a whole half of a season last year with no fans, so it is not an excuse that we can use.”

Snyder said a thousand or so bodies isn’t likely to provide all that big of a lift: “You don’t have the same advantage from having a packed house that you do having 1,000 or 1,500 in the gym.”

For his part, Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said he wasn’t sure ahead of time how it would feel, but he was sure it was “gonna seem different.”

“Just watching film of Utah from last year, just seeing all the people in the stands, it’s kind of weird to see,” he said. “We’ll just see how our guys respond tonight with fans in the stands.”

The Clippers’ young center Mfiondu Kabengele — who wasn’t with the team in the bubble — said last week that he was looking forward to experiencing what it’s like to play in front of fans again.

“That’s the whole (thing), putting a show on for the fans, we do it all for them,” he said. “So to have them out there, it’s exciting. It will basically add another element to the game.”

LUE PRAISES CLARKSON

Coming in, Lue knew the Clippers needed to keep an eye on Jordan Clarkson, and not only because the Jazz guard entered Friday’s game averaging 16.5 points and shooting 48.0 percent so far this season.

Lue is appreciative of Clarkson’s capabilities after having coached him in Cleveland, where he landed in February, 2018, after being traded by the Lakers. His addition to that Cavalier team worked out well for all involved, Lue said.

“Coming to Cleveland and having a chance to play with our team and beside LeBron (James) and K-Love (Kevin Love) and the guys that we had there, it gave him a chance to really grow up,” Lue said. “All he’d ever seen is the Lakers and he got drafted there, so coming to Cleveland, having a chance to play in the playoffs for his first time, going to the NBA Finals for his first time, I think he had a chance to see what it took and what it was like.

“He was a big reason why (the Jazz) were really good last year. And then coming back this year, being a free agent and getting paid (four years for $50 million) and the team showing him his worth, I think it’s made him even more comfortable. He’s really grown and matured a lot.”

This post first appeared on ocregister.com

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