Day by day, the Clippers have inched closer to almost becoming a complete team, the return Friday night of Blake Griffin and Wesley Johnson from the injured ranks improving their fortunes.
But guard Austin Rivers suffered a strained right Achilles’ tendon during the third quarter and didn’t return to the game.
Rivers appeared to bang knees with teammate Sam Dekker along the baseline. The Clippers were forced to call a timeout so Rivers could be taken to the locker room.
Rivers, who left the locker room on crutches without speaking to reporters, will have an MRI exam on Saturday.
It had been a tough night for Rivers health-wise. He went down with 7 minutes 45 seconds left in the second quarter after bruising his left elbow. He returned to play after that injury.
Rivers had 13 points on five-for-12 shooting, three-for-seven on three-pointers, before he exited the game.
Griffin had been out the last 14 games recovering from a sprained medial collateral ligament injury to his left knee. But he started his first game since going down Nov. 27, playing against the same Lakers he was injured against. He led the way with 24 points, six rebounds and six assists.
Johnson had missed five games because of left-foot soreness, but he came off the bench for 10 scoreless minutes.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers said Griffin looked good at the Clippers’ practice Thursday and during a practice Wednesday with their G-League developmental team, the Agua Caliente Clippers of Ontario.
“He just looked normal to me,” the coach said. “When a lot of guys come back, you can see a limp, you can see something. He looked normal. He had a great practice yesterday. He looked good against the G-League guys. He was just fumbling the ball. He hadn’t played basketball. So that was just normal.
“But yesterday you could see in one day he was already reassured with his ball handling. What I was surprised by is that he had a couple of dunks. He looked normal and I think that was surprising for me.”
Though Griffin was out four weeks recovering from his injury, Rivers said there wouldn’t be a minute’s restriction on his power forward.
“We’ll monitor him,” Doc Rivers said. “We’re not going to play him 40 minutes tonight. I shouldn’t even say that. Obviously we want to keep him at a low (amount). We don’t want to throw him in there and just say you’re normal. We know that, but we’ll monitor him more with our eyes than with a minute count.”
The Clippers survived with Griffin out, going 6-8.
During that time, the Clippers didn’t have Johnson for five games, Danilo Gallinari (partial tear, left glute) for nine games, Milos Teodosic (rest, plantar fascia injury to left foot) for seven games, Patrick Beverley (right knee), who is out for the season, Austin Rivers (NBA concussion protocol) two games and Lou Williams (foot) one game.
“We clearly have won a lot of games for what we’ve had and I’ve been very pleased with that,” Doc Rivers said. “But we’ve got a long way to go and we need to get guys back if we want make any type of run.”