Griffin returns to spark Clippers’ rout of Lakers
LOS ANGELES — Forgive the two NBA teams in Los Angeles if they have one eye on the approaching new year and the hypothetical fresh start it supplies.
The Los Angeles Clippers might have rolled to a 121-106 victory on Friday night over their Staples Center co-tenant, the Los Angeles Lakers, but even they would like to turn the symbolic page.
Forward Blake Griffin did return Friday after missing a month with a sprained left knee, scoring a game-high 24 points, but injuries still dominate the discussion when it comes to the Clippers (15-19).
Austin Rivers was the latest to go down, leaving with 2:06 remaining in the third quarter with what was diagnosed as a strained right Achilles tendon. Rivers left the Clippers’ locker room on crutches without talking to reporters.
The Clippers will re-evaluate Rivers’ status before revealing a timetable for his return.
“It sucks, but you can’t use that as an excuse,” said Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, who had 12 points and 16 rebounds. “That’s why we have a deep team. That’s why we have to figure out a way to make it work. It sucks to lose one of your main scorers and a guy who has been playing extremely well for our team.”
The Lakers have their own concerns, with some of them also injury related. Rookie point guard Lonzo Ball did not play Friday with a left shoulder sprain, and center Brook Lopez was out with a right ankle sprain.
But injuries were not the main topic of discussion when the Lakers elected to forgo practice on Thursday for what was characterized as the team’s effort to get on the same page after recent defeats. Not much progress was shown in their first game after their heart-to-heart.
“We were trying some different things, but to me (defense) is the No. 1 thing we need to fix,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “It’s what we have been able to hang our hat on all year. Tonight we got out and ran, but we didn’t play any defense.”
The offense had its issues as well. The Lakers (11-23) went just 3 of 19 from 3-point range, an abysmal 15.8 percent. The Clippers were only slightly better at 9 of 32 (28.1 percent) from the 3-point line.
Griffin was 6 of 15 from the field in his return and showed his typical aggressive style of play. He went to the free-throw line 12 times, making 11.
“I felt good and had no second thoughts; no moments when I didn’t trust it,” Griffin said. “Most importantly, (the big thing) was just mixing back in with the guys. I think we have been playing really hard and playing the right way so I just wanted to get back in and have success the first game.”
Clippers guard Lou Williams scored 23 points off the bench, Montrezl Harrell had 15 and Rivers added 13.
The Clippers had seven players who scored in double figures as they defeated the Lakers for the 21st time in the last 23 matchups dating to the start of the 2012-13 season.
The Clippers took an early 9-0 lead, increased it to 22-5 at one point in the first quarter and were never threatened. They led 62-48 at halftime and 91-75 after three quarters.
“The first eight minutes, you couldn’t ask for better basketball,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “They came out and attacked. What I liked most is that (Griffin) just kind of joined in. Everybody still got their space and we still attacked.”
The Clippers have now won five consecutive home games and four of their last five overall, but will now have to replace what Austin Rivers brings on both the offensive and defensive ends.
“We just keep rolling and it doesn’t matter who is on the floor,” Doc Rivers said, suggesting that his son will miss some games. “We play like a team, we play hard, we defend hard, and our job is to just figure it out each game until we get everybody back.”
In losing for the eighth time in their last nine games, the Lakers were outrebounded 49-35. The Clippers had 26 second-chance points to the Lakers’ 14.
“I’ll watch the tape when we I get home tonight and really dive into it,” Walton said. “I think it’s going to be hard to judge the first half because I just don’t think we were ready, for whatever reason, to engage in the fight. The second half, I think, will be much more telling because at least we were playing with the effort we need to play with as a group.”
NOTES: Lakers F Kyle Kuzma was in the starting lineup despite a right quad contusion suffered in the fourth quarter Wednesday against Memphis. Kouzma was 4 of 24 from the field in the game against the Grizzlies. ... Lakers G Jordan Clarkson returned to his regular role off the bench after starting the last two games at point guard with G Lonzo Ball out of action with a left shoulder sprain. G Brandon Ingram started at the point instead. ... Clippers F Blake Griffin played 32 minutes, including the first eight of the game, in his first game back in action after missing a month with a sprained left knee. ... Clippers C DeAndre Jordan grabbed 16 rebounds and is now averaging 17.4 per game in the month, the fourth-most rebounds ever in December.