It was a slow trickle into the postgame interview room after the Clippers lost, 105-97, to the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night at Staples Center.
And even when Clippers Coach Doc Rivers showed up about 25 minutes after the game and Chris Paul about 40 minutes after their second consecutive defeat, their monotones were low and not reassuring about a team with championship aspirations.
Paul was back in the Clippers’ starting lineup, his return finally making them whole for the first time in just over two months, his presence sorely needed as L.A. enters the stretch drive of the regular season.
He had come from having been sidelined for 14 games recovering from surgery to repair a ligament tear in his left thumb to a game that was a defensive standoff.
Paul, who was out five weeks after his procedure, had 17 points, five assists and six rebounds in 33 minutes. He wore a small wrap around the thumb for protection, but the All-Star still made six of 14 shots, including two of three from three-point range.
“The only thing that mattered is how we did as a team,” Paul said. “I came out unscathed, which was great. It felt great to be back on the court. A tough loss, but it felt good to get through the entire game.”
Blake Griffin was hit in the face by Spurs reserve Dewyane Dedmon. Griffin, who went down on the court bleeding, went to locker room for a moment and came back out with a band-aid beneath his right eye.
Griffin grew angry and then went to work, scoring 29 points, grabbing nine rebounds and handing out five assists.
Austin Rivers had another strong game for the Clippers, scoring 23 points. DeAndre Jordan had 14 points and eight rebounds.
But that wasn’t enough to stop the Spurs, who now trail the season series against the Clippers, 2-1.
“We played on one side of the floor for most of the night tonight,” Doc Rivers said. “[Our offense] was tough to watch because you could see us out of rhythm, out of sync.”
Clippers forward Blake Griffin writhes on the court after being fouled during the second half.(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
Spurs center Dewayne Dedmon blocks ashot by Clippers forward Blake Griffin during the second half.(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
Clippers forward Blake Griffin fouls Spurs center Pau Gasol on a shot during the second half.(Harry How / Getty Images)
Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard pulls up for a shot in the lane during the second half.(Harry How / Getty Images)
Clippers forward Blake Griffin receives a pass while being defended by Spurs center Dewayne Dedmon during the first half.(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
Clippers forward Blake Griffin scores on a layup past Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge and center Pau Gasol during the first half.(Harry How / Getty Images)
Clippers center Marreese Speights has his shot challenged by Spurs center Pau Gasol during the first half.(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
Clippers forward Blake Griffin discusses strategy with point guard Chris Paul just before tipoff against the Spurs.(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
Spurs center Dewayne Dedmon tosses a pass around Clippers forward Brandon Bass to teammate David Lee (10) during the first half.(Harry How / Getty Images)
Clippers forward Blake Griffin shoots a jumper over Spurs center Pau Gasol during the first half.(Harry How / Getty Images)
Kawhi Leonard led the Spurs with 21 points and six assists. LaMarcus Aldridge had 15 points and 11 rebounds, Pau Gasol 17 points and 11 rebounds and Tony Parker 17 points.
The Spurs kept control of the game in the fourth quarter, opening a 13-point lead at one point. Leonard, Parker and Gasol made sure the Clippers never got close enough in the fourth.
For the game, the Clippers made 44.3% of their shots.
Times had been tough for the Clippers with Paul out. They went 6-8 while he recovered.