For Clippers, facing Spurs without Griffin is a tall order

Paul Pierce, Wilson Chandler
Clippers forward Paul Pierce guards Denver Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler during the Clippers’ 119-102 win at the Staples Center on Tuesday. Pierce started the game in the absence of Blake Griffin, who is recovering from knee surgery.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

The hammer the Clippers have used over the years to pound away at the seemingly always indomitable San Antonio Spurs won’t be available for this next encounter.

So not having the force of Blake Griffin to help power the Clippers against the Spurs on Thursday night at Staples Center makes an always difficult challenge to defeat such a worthy foe that much more arduous.

Griffin just began his healing process of being out three to six weeks following arthroscopic right-knee surgery Tuesday, leaving the Clippers without a principal cog of their success at a time when the Spurs have won five consecutive games and nine of their last 10.

“It’ll be a tough one because Blake has been really big in those games,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said late Tuesday night. “So we have to figure out another way.”


The only way now against the Spurs is for the Clippers to rely on their strong role players for support.

Paul Pierce started against the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night.

But the Spurs play big, starting the 7-foot Pau Gasol at center, 6-11 LaMarcus Aldridge at power forward and 6-7 Kawhi Leonard at small forward.

Rivers had already said his starting lineup would change based on the opponent.


So maybe he’ll start the 6-8 Brandon Bass alongside 6-11 center DeAndre Jordan, or 6-10 Marreese Speights, to combat San Antonio’s size.

Or maybe Rivers will go against the grain and go small and start Austin Rivers in a three-guard lineup to see how that fares against the Spurs.

“We have Mo Speights. Brandon Bass. That’s why we have such a deep team this year, just for things like this,” Jordan said. “You obviously don’t want to go through injuries during the season. There’s no way we can replace Blake. But guys, they got to step up, the same way we did last year.

“This year I feel like we’ve got more firepower off our bench. Guys like Mo and Bass, the ‘The Truth’ (Pierce). Guys like that, they are going to be ready to play. It’s going to be exciting to have this challenge. Just go with it.”

But here are some numbers that’s impossible for the Clippers to replace against the Spurs with Griffin out.

He leads the team in scoring, averaging 21.1 points per game.

He had 28 points on 13-for-19 shooting when the Clippers throttled the Spurs by 24 points last month.

In 18 career regular-season games against the Spurs, Griffin has averaged 22.8 points on 52% shooting, 9.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists.


When the Clippers defeated the Spurs in a thrilling first-round, seven-game playoff series in 2015, Griffin averaged 24.1 points, 13.1 rebounds and 7.4 assists.

All of that is what the Clippers will be missing.

But the Clippers were in similar circumstances last season in an important showdown against the Spurs.

Griffin didn’t play that Feb. 18 game at Staples Center because he was recovering from a partially torn left quadriceps tendon injury and broken right hand – Leonard (left calf) also didn’t play for the Spurs – and the Clippers won that game by 19 points.

Still, the Clippers know the Spurs present the ultimate challenge.

“On the defensive side of the ball for us, what makes them so hard to play against is they make you work for an entire possession,” J.J. Redick said. “There’s no wasted movement. It’s maybe really two or three teams in the league that you have to do this with, but you have to defend every guy for 24 seconds at a really high pace. Any mistake you make defensively they are going to make you pay. As we all know, defensively they’ve been really good and they still are really, really good again.”




When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

Where: Staples Center.

On the air: TV: Prime Ticket, TNT; Radio: 570, 1330.

Records: Clippers 21-8; Spurs 23-5.

Record vs. Spurs: Clippers 1-0.

Update: Chris Paul is 30 assists shy of 8,000 career assists. Having played 802 games, Paul is on pace to become the third-fastest in NBA history to reach at least 15,000 career points and 8,000 career assists. Magic Johnson (765 games) and Oscar Robertson (784) are the others. … Paul Pierce, who has played 45,702 minutes over a 19-year NBA career, needs to play in three more minutes to pass Robert Parish (45,704) for No. 15 on the NBA’s all-time list for minutes played.