SALT LAKE CITY – Blake Griffin did not make the trip to Utah for the Clippers’ match-up Saturday night against the Jazz and will miss at least the rest of the team’s current five-game road trip with a partially torn quad tendon suffered in the Clippers’ Christmas win against the Lakers.
The injury occurred on a drive to the basket in the first quarter Friday night, and an MRI revealed the partial tear Saturday morning. Griffin will begin a recovery and treatment plan and will be re-evaluated in two weeks.
Despite the injury occurring early in the game against the Lakers, Griffin played the rest of the night, finishing with 13 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. The 13 points marked his lowest total of the month after scoring at least 15 points in each of his previous 11 games in December.
Some Clippers had a better idea than others that something was wrong, even though Griffin played 36 minutes, including late in the fourth quarter when the Lakers drew close.
Jamal Crawford was among the players who could tell something was up, but he said it’s tough to know how bad something’s bothering Griffin because of his toughness.
“He plays through stuff,” Crawford said. “He mentioned something, and you could see the look on his face. I’ve known him now four years, so you can tell when something’s a little off. He was a little off. He kind of said that toward the end of the game, but you could kind of tell.”
Other players didn’t realize anything was wrong until Griffin wasn’t on the plane after the game going to Utah.
“Then we kind of figured out, ‘OK, something’s bothering him,’” said Cole Aldrich. “He’s just going to get checked out, maybe meet with us in Washington. Turned out to be a little more serious than we all hoped for.”
Still, it was encouraging for the Clippers when they found out surgery doesn’t appear to be necessary.
“I know how injuries go, seeing them and being around the league a while,” Crawford said. “Something like that, you’re just thankful it wasn’t something more. It could’ve been worse for sure, and I’m just happy it wasn’t.”
While Griffin will be re-evaluated in two weeks, it could be longer than that before he returns. Doc Rivers said sometimes those injuries take a week or two, and something they can take a month or longer.
The Clippers will be patient as they wait to find out how long they’ll be without their leading scorer.
Griffin, who missed time last year after surgery for a staph infection in his elbow, had not missed any of the Clippers’ first 30 games of the year. When Griffin went out last year for 15 games, the Clippers went 9-6.
Crawford said he hopes the Clippers can draw from that, but last year is last year and that was a different team.
“Obviously the foundation of the team is still the same and the coach, but there’s so many moving parts,” Crawford said. “We have to figure it out. There’s only one Blake, that’s for sure.”
Rivers said the Clippers have done well in the past bouncing back when someone goes down. That was certainly the case for DeAndre Jordan when Griffin went out last year, with the Clippers’ center averaging 14.9 points and 18.5 rebounds during those 15 games.
But both Rivers and Crawford said the Clippers can’t just rely on one player with Griffin down, nor do they want Jordan changing the way he plays.
“We don’t need anybody to try to do more, just everybody do their jobs and kind of pitch in,” Rivers said. “When one or two guys try to take up the slack, you usually mess it up. I just think obviously you’re not going to replace Blake and no one is, so everyone just has to pitch in.”
Griffin leads the team with 23.2 points per game and is second on the team in both rebounds per game (8.7) and assists per game (5.0). Griffin is also among the top vote-getters after the first returns of All-Star voting, trailing only Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant among the West’s frontcourt players.
With Griffin out, Josh Smith, who didn’t play in either of the Clippers’ previous two games, earned the start in Utah.