Brand made his long-awaited season debut on Wednesday night, scoring 19 points and leading the Clippers past the Seattle SuperSonics 102-84.
Mostly Happy Returns
A host of stars got back on the court on Wednesday after spending time out with injuries. Here's how they fared:
17, L vs. MIL
Nov. 16, 2007
19, W at SEA
April 18, 2007
10, W vs. POR
March 14, 2008
18, W vs. G.S.
March 23, 2008
His stat line looked like so many others Brand has posted over the last few years -- 7-of-15 shooting, five rebounds, three assists, one block, and most importantly, 13 points in the fourth quarter.
Not bad for someone who only eight months ago had surgery to repair a shredded left Achilles tendon.
"To be able to go out there and compete and help us get a win ... that was great," Brand said.
Brand's debut was expected to take place Thursday night in Sacramento. His wife and mother were making the trip to Sacramento in anticipation of seeing Brand play for the first time this season.
Coach Mike Dunleavy debated early on Wednesday giving Brand a few minutes against the Sonics, a few more in Sacramento, and then pushing his star forward on Sunday when the Clippers host Houston.
But Dunleavy got word during pregame that Brand felt he could go. Dunleavy thought 16 minutes would be a good start. Brand played almost 26, including all but 53 seconds of the fourth quarter as the Clippers pulled away.
"At this point, it's just good to have him out there and is a flashback to what we can be with him," Dunleavy said.
And Brand wasn't content just to make an appearance either, coming up with key baskets throughout the fourth quarter.
Down 70-69 to start the fourth, the Clippers went on a 13-2 run and took an 82-72 lead on Brand's leaning jumper in the lane with 7:09 left. He also had a three-point play and displayed he can still quickly get off the floor, rising to swat Jeff Green's shot during the Clippers' decisive spurt.
He added two more jumpers and four free throws in the final minutes, checking out with 57 seconds left and all his teammates on the bench rising to congratulate his return.
"He's a great player. He just makes everything so much easier out there," said Clippers' rookie Al Thornton, who played his first game with Brand.
Thornton led the Clippers with 21 points and Corey Maggette added 20. Los Angeles had lost 11 of 12 entering Wednesday night.
Kevin Durant led Seattle with 30 points, but the struggles only continued for the lowly SuperSonics. Seattle lost for the 19th time in 21 games and have just two victories since March 1. The Sonics must win their final seven games to avoid the worst season in franchise history. That's highly unlikely; Seattle's final seven all come against teams fighting for playoff position in the Western Conference: Houston (twice), Denver, Dallas (twice), San Antonio and Golden State.
Green added 17 points and Nick Collison had 12 points and 17 rebounds for Seattle, which was outscored 33-14 in the fourth quarter.
"For whatever reason, we quit doing what got us there," Collison said. "We don't move the ball and we stand around and wait for someone else to make plays. ... We're not running our plays the right way. We're not getting a lot of good shots down toward the end. ... It's been the same way all year."
Brand didn't shy away from being aggressive, even if he was anxious on his first shot and barely drew iron. His first basket came with 3:08 left in first quarter, hitting a right-hander from the low block. He immediately yelled "and one" wanting a foul on the play but didn't get the call.
"Something I have to learn how to deal with again in the referees," Brand said with a chuckle. "It's been 12 months. I forgot those referees."
Brand made three of eight shots in the first half, but the Clippers frittered away an early 11-point lead as Seattle held a 50-48 advantage at halftime.
Brand's return came on a night the Clippers were severely short-handed. Chris Kaman (ankle), Cuttino Mobley (heel) and Tim Thomas (Achilles) all were out, and Dunleavy said Kaman's ankle injury could keep him out the rest of the season. Kaman is averaging 15.7 points and 12.7 rebounds.
"We hoped we'd play the last eight or nine games with Kaman and Brand together," Dunleavy said.
Seattle F Damien Wilkins was not with the team for personal reasons. ... Another comical moment in the Sonics season, a fan competing in a dizzy bat race ran into Seattle's coaching staff as they walked away from the bench before the fourth quarter started. ... The Clippers took two of three from Seattle this season.