Five seasons ago, Larry Brown coached the Clippers to their first playoff berth in Los Angeles, then left for Indiana. Bill Fitch guided them into the playoffs last season and stayed.
But the victories since then have been few and far between for Fitch, who had to suffer through a seven-game losing streak before finally passing Red Auerbach for second place on the NBA's career victory list.
Fitch finally did it Wednesday night as Eric Piatkowski's career-high 27 points powered a 117-108 triumph over Brown and his Philadelphia 76ers.
"I've just had a far different career than Red had. It's a completely different ballgame." Fitch said. "I can't even draw a comparison between myself and Red Auerbach. It's impossible. He's done it all and he's done it win-win-win-win."
Fitch has earned his 939 victories the hard way during a 25-year career that includes six losing seasons with Cleveland, one with Houston, three with New Jersey and four with the Clippers - including this one. Auerbach had only one losing season during his 20-year coaching career, when his Tri-Cities Blackhawks went 28-29 in 1949-50.
Fitch still trails Lenny Wilkens by 164 for the top spot, and probably won't catch him for two reasons. Wilkens is still coaching, and Fitch is still coaching the Clippers - who are 12-44 and have won only two of their last 17.
Fitch has coached one team to an NBA championship, the 1980-81 Celtics. And the man who hired him was Auerbach, who first met Fitch in Moline, Ill., when Fitch was growing up in Davenport, Iowa, and the cigar-smoking icon was still coaching Tri-Cities.
"I learned a lot of basketball from Red during the early years," Fitch said. "We were already friends when I went to Boston, so it wasn't like I was a complete stranger."
Fitch spent four seasons with the Celtics, compiling a 242-86 record and earning two Atlantic Division titles. By no small coincidence, those four seasons coincided with Larry Bird's first four in the NBA.
"I was the first `outsider' there, and probably the last one until Rick Pitino came in," Fitch pointed out. "They were struggling at the time because they had some guys who didn't act like true Celtics - guys who weren't paying the price and didn't have the Celtic pride. So from that standpoint, Red just said, `Come in here and do what you have to do, and I'll back you.'
"I just went and took a page or two out of Red's book and coached that way. I think that's probably one reason he brought me there," Fitch added. "Red was great to work for because, in all the time I was there, he never once said, `Hey, this is what I want you to do."'
The Clippers, who had lost the previous eight times Brown coached against them, got 24 points in the second half from Piatkowski. Rookie forward Maurice Taylor scored 20 points and center Isaac Austin shrugged off a sprained ankle to add 19 points and 12 rebounds in his third game witLos Angeles.
"It was a great win. We've been down for a while, so we needed to get one," Rodney Rogers said. "And there wasn't a better time than tonight to get it because they're a tough team."
Derrick Coleman tied a season-high with 25 points, and Brian Shaw added a season-high 24. But it wasn't enough for the Sixers, who absorbed their fifth consecutive loss at the Sports Arena and failed in their bid to win three consecutive road games for the first time since Nov. 25-Dec. 7, 1994.
Shaw's layup and Coleman's slam dunk sliced Philadelphia's deficit to 94-91 with 3:53 to play. But the Clippers responded with a 10-2 spurt that made it 101-93 with 1:51 left and matched their biggest lead of the game.
"The Clippers played great," Brown said. "Their offense executed and moved the ball well. We had a tough time guarding them because of the matchup problems for us."
Notes: Austin missed the final 4:06 of the first half after tumbling over Shaw under the Clippers' basket and spraining his left ankle. He' planned to get X-rays today. ... The Sixers lost guard Aaron McKie just 58 seconds into the game with lower back spasms.
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