Replacing Clippers star Blake Griffin will be no easy task; tonight Montrezl Harrell gets his chance
His official title is coach, but Doc Rivers has work encompassing several other areas of expertise now that Blake Griffin has joined Milos Teodosic, Danilo Gallinari and Patrick Beverley among the Clippers starters sidelined by injuries.
Losing Griffin’s average output of 21.6 points, 9.3 rebounds and 4.2 assists a game for two months will require some leadership wizardry summoning Rivers’ best motivational skills, with doses of therapy, physiology and improvisation.
The Clippers set out on that journey Thursday night against Utah in their first game since losing Griffin on Monday to an MCL injury to his left knee. Rivers started Montrezl Harrell in Griffin’s spot, admitting “Every night is going to be someone different. I like [Harrell’s] energy, his ability to rebound, and, he, in a strange way, is another great passer and playmaker for us.”
Juggling the variety of leadership roles is “what you’ve got to be as a coach all the time,” Rivers said. “I don’t think that changes. When you’re playing well, you’re still doing the same stuff. When you have injuries, you’re still doing the same stuff. It’s just, in this case, it’s extreme when you have four of your five starters out. It is what it is. But like I’ve always said, everyone is getting paid, including us [coaches]. We’ve just got to try to piece it together the best we can.”
Beverley’s already gone for the season (right knee), so the Clippers are counting the days until Tedosic and Gallinari return, possibly by mid-December.
“We have Gallo and Milos working hard. Hopefully, they’ll be back soon,” Rivers said. “There’s not much you can do about it. But you can’t lay down. I can tell you that. You have to play, you have to teach. I’ve been in this situation before and you’ll find your joy in this, as well as a coach and as players, because guys who are not playing will play.
“There’s always something that you’ll find. … You’ll find a player. You’ll find things you can do with these guys. You’ll find who can play and you can’t. That’s just the way life is.”
The tiny amount of solace taken from the absences is Rivers’ confidence in the young Clippers.
“You always worry more about veterans than young guys,” he said. “The one thing a player wants to do is play. I think people underestimate that. Our guys, my guess, are down that Blake’s not playing and Milos and Gallo and Patrick [are out], but deep down they want to play, too. It’s not like these guys are sitting back and saying, ‘Dammit, I got to play now.’ I’ve never heard that before. And it’s the truth. They are biting at the bit. They want to show us they can play. I want them to show us they can play. That’s the way it is.”
Shuffling the deck
Sam Dekker may ultimately also start in Griffin’s place, and Austin Rivers and Lou Williams will likely see their minutes increase as the Clippers reconfigure.
“It’s not what we came into the season thinking would happen,” Doc Rivers said. “But there’s going to be something out of this that we find that is good. I can’t tell you want it is. It may be Brice [Johnson]. It may be Sam. It may be Montrezl — someone, that’s the way it goes.”
Gallinari (strained left glute) and Teodosic (plantar fascia injury to left foot), according to Doc Rivers, each have gone “live, one-on-one stuff. … I don’t think they are ready to go five-on-five yet.”
“I don’t think they’ll be out more than five to 10 games more,” the coach said. “But that’s a lot of games when you have the other two starters out, too. The one thing we’re never going to do, we’re never going to rush a guy back. I’m not going to say, ‘Gallo, we need you tomorrow.’ We do need him tomorrow. We need Milos tomorrow. We need Blake. We need Pat. But we’re not going to rush anybody back. Guys are going to get healthy when they get healthy.”
Revisiting the pain
Austin Rivers fell on Griffin’s knee in the fourth quarter of Monday’s victory over the Lakers.
“When I had landed on him, I felt it,” Austin Rivers said. “I landed on his leg. ... I tried to get up as quickly as possible. But the momentum of Lonzo [Ball] and somebody else was with me, so I tried to get away as quickly as possible. I heard [Griffin] yell. I was just like, ‘Come on, man. This can’t be serious.’ Of all people. You don’t want anybody to get hurt, let alone BG. But it’s just the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Follow Lance Pugmire on Twitter @latimespugmire
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