GRIFFIN TRIES TO PLAY THROUGH ANKLE INJURY
LOS ANGELES – Blake Griffin was one of the last players on the court prior to tipoff in Game 5 and one of the last to leave the arena after the Clippers lost 103-93.
He walked cautiously towards the court, a slight limp that was made more noticeable by the extra bulk of tape and padding covering his already swollen right ankle. He tapped his right foot against the hardwood seconds before official Danny Crawford tossed the ball up and grimaced ever so slightly, extending his mouthpiece from his lips before resetting it.
Griffin had a similar gait as he left the locker room late in the night Tuesday. He stood next to a wall waiting for a cart to drive him away following his noble four-point, five-rebound, five-assist effort despite a high right ankle sprain that left him a shell of his usual self.
He sustained the injury at practice a day earlier when he came down awkwardly on Lamar Odom’s foot as he jumped up to make a pass during a half-speed five-on-five activity. He was down on the floor for several minutes before limping off the Clippers' practice court under his own power. And after around the clock treatment he decided to play through the injury.
“It was kind of one of those things that I couldn’t honestly believe it happened yesterday,” Griffin said. “I kept being optimistic. Our training staff did a great job and I got treatment literally all through the night. It just didn’t hold up.”
Asked what areas of his game were limited by the injury, he said, “Pick one.”
He lasted 20 minutes, first leaving the game at the 3:12 mark of the first quarter and retreating to the weight room in the arena to keep his ankle loose on a treadmill. After returning in the second quarter and again after halftime, Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro elected to shut Griffin down for good with 5:39 remaining in the third quarter.
“As the game went on, it just got sore and fatigued and got worse and worse. You could see him there in the third he was struggling to move a little bit. That’s when I just pulled the plug on that. It just didn’t make sense. I really wanted to protect him and make sure he was all right. But I give him a lot of credit for being out there.”
Del Negro called it “unfortunate” and a “freak” injury and Jamal Crawford and Chris Paul both said it is a “tough” blow for a Clippers team that just eight days ago appeared poised to take a 3-0 lead in their best-of-seven series. Now, they are tasked with winning an elimination game in Memphis with Griffin’s status in question.
“It’s obviously not ideal timing, but everybody goes through injuries,” Griffin said in perhaps an unexpectedly calm voice. “A lot of teams throughout the league have had much worse injuries, including guys for the season and guys for the playoffs.
“It felt good enough at the beginning of the game today, and kind of got worse as time went on. So, hopefully with two days of rest and two days of treatment I will be [ready to play in Game 6].”
Griffin has said several times in his career that ankle injuries are more mind over matter, but this is the first time he has suffered a high ankle sprain. It clearly hampered him throughout Tuesday’s game. It was limiting, even appearing debilitating.
But Griffin wasn’t missing a chance to break a 2-2 tie in the Clippers’ first-round series with the Grizzlies. That became apparent when he was on the court an hour before the game, shooting and pivoting and moving around to test the injury.
“It felt better this morning a little bit and little bit before the game,” Griffin said. “I couldn’t really feel much, being on painkillers and all that, but I guess it just kind of wore off.”
Before that, though, he played with the same disregard for his body that has characterized him for three NBA seasons. He threw himself to the court, leapt in traffic for rebounds, powered through Zach Randolph for a layup, threw down a left-handed dunk on a dump off from Chauncey Billups, all in the first period.
“He battled,” Del Negro said. “I give him a lot of credit. He’s got a lot of swelling in there. He got therapy all night and therapy all day. He battled through it.”
He went for four points, three rebounds and two assists in less than nine minutes and then went back to the weight room. His return to the game lasted less than four minutes and after picking up his third foul he went back to the bench. After leaving the game for good in the third, Griffin was back in the locker room but reemerged in the fourth quarter to sit on the bench as the Clippers attempted to rally from an eight-point fourth-quarter deficit.
“I didn’t want to be back here,” he said. “I’d been in the ice bucket for 20 minutes and I was watching the game on the TV in there and I didn’t feel like I was out there with my team. I just wanted to be out there.”