Clippers’ Blake Griffin breaks his hand punching a team employee and will miss another 4-6 weeks
His name was invoked in the Clippers’ locker room after almost every game.
“‘Tias!” center DeAndre Jordan would declare loudly, as if he wanted to make a show of what was coming next. “Where’s ‘Tias at?”
Matias Testi would appear and Jordan would invariably ask the assistant equipment manager to fetch a piece of clothing or maybe some lotion. Testi faithfully retrieved the item, even if he did occasionally dawdle or mutter something under his breath.
To the uninitiated it might have resembled a mild hazing ritual, but there was always a playful undercurrent between Testi, Jordan and teammate Blake Griffin. Their relationship felt like something out of the buddy comedy “Entourage,” with Testi playing the role of the relative nobody along for the ride with his celebrity friends during dinners and other outings.
That friendship unraveled Saturday when Griffin repeatedly punched Testi during an altercation at a Toronto restaurant, resulting in a broken bone in Griffin’s right hand that is expected to keep the All-Star forward out for an additional four to six weeks at a time when he had already missed a month because of a quadriceps injury.
“I always say, four to six weeks with a broken hand is unrealistic, I’ll tell you that,” Rivers said Tuesday before the Clippers defeated the Indiana Pacers, 91-89, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Rivers said the Clippers were still investigating the incident with assistance from the NBA and could impose disciplinary measures against Griffin, who left Testi with a severely swollen face but no fractures.
“This type of stuff shouldn’t happen,” Rivers said. “But it did. And it’s real life, and you have to live with real-life stuff.”
Testi, 29, returned to Los Angeles, as did Griffin, after the incident and Griffin underwent a procedure on his hand Tuesday morning, the team said. Griffin tweeted an apology later in the day, writing that “a situation among friends escalated and I regret the way I handled myself towards someone I care about. I want to apologize to the Clippers organization, my teammates and the fans for creating a distraction. I am working with the team on a resolution and getting back in the game as soon as possible.”
The altercation started inside a restaurant with a back-and-forth exchange that led the friends outside, with Griffin throwing multiple punches, according to a league executive with knowledge of the situation who was not authorized to discuss it publicly.
Rivers said he was unsure whether the men were drinking at the time of the altercation but “I don’t think alcohol had anything to do with this.”
It was not immediately known whether Testi would pursue legal action against Griffin or the Clippers. He remained employed by the team.
Rivers said he talked to both Griffin and Testi but wasn’t satisfied with what he was told.
“I’m not satisfied with anything,” Rivers said. “I’m talking about a non-basketball issue right now.”
The altercation put some of Griffin’s teammates in the awkward spot of being caught between allegiances.
“I’m friends with and love both parties,” Jordan said. “It’s out of my control, but hopefully we can figure out something.”
The injury will prevent Griffin from playing in the All-Star game Feb. 14 in Toronto even if he is selected among the reserves for the Western Conference roster.
It is the second incident involving Griffin in the last 16 months. A West Hollywood man accused Griffin of snatching his cellphone and grabbing him in October 2014 after the man took a picture of Clippers players at a nightclub in Las Vegas.
The misdemeanor battery case was later dropped after prosecutors decided there was insufficient evidence. Rivers said he spoke with Griffin afterward about the need to prevent similar situations from escalating.
“We have a responsibility once we decide to play in this league to conduct ourselves a certain way,” Rivers said. “We represent the Clippers.”
The more recent incident triggered widespread criticism of the Clippers on social media, though the team once owned by the infamous Donald Sterling has been a target for decades.
“Not many people that like us, anybody, and we always say, ‘Who cares?’” point guard Chris Paul said. “We’ve got to be there for each other. That’s what we’re going to do.”
The Clippers (29-16) have gone 12-3 in Griffin’s absence, though most of the victories have come against teams with losing records. Losing Griffin for another extended stretch throws the Clippers’ season into disarray as they try to hold onto one of the top four spots in the West that would secure home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
If Griffin returned in six weeks, he could play in slightly more than a month of regular-season games, notwithstanding a possible suspension.
“This is a hard lesson for Blake,” Rivers said, “but it’s also a hard lesson for our team.”
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch
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