LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Clippers played their second straight game without star forward Blake Griffin – who had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Tuesday – against the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday night.
Their first game was a 17-point drubbing of the Denver Nuggets, who sit at 12-17 after Tuesday’s loss. The Clippers had no problem without Griffin against Denver, but that could be a different story going forward.
Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said he didn’t know his team’s confidence level when playing without Griffin, but didn’t sound too concerned before Thursday’s game.
“I think we’re a pretty confident group all the time,” Rivers said. “Maybe overconfident at times, and that probably gets us in trouble. But no, I think we’re in good shape.”
But Rivers may be forced to do things he doesn’t like because of Griffin’s absence. Without Griffin’s athleticism and speed, Rivers said the team’s strategy when defending pick-and-rolls will likely change.
“We may have to trap a little bit more – something I don’t enjoy doing,” Rivers said. “But you gotta do what you gotta do. I would say that would be something you will see more with us without Blake.”
For the second straight game, Rivers started forward Paul Pierce, who has averaged only 12.4 minutes per game going into Thursday. Rivers also started him against Denver.
“We just felt like he spaces the floor and he’s smart,” Rivers said. “We don’t love the matchup, obviously, with the (Pau) Gasol part of it or (LaMarcus) Aldridge or whoever he takes.”
But early in the game, Pierce held his own when defending the Spurs’ twin towers. On one play with just over eight minutes to play, Pierce guarded Gasol one-on-one and forced a turnover that led right to a JJ Redick 3-pointer.
On the Clippers’ next defensive sequence, Aldridge received the ball in the post with Pierce guarding him, again one-on-one. Pierce played him close and drew a charge on Aldridge.
Pierce, however, played only six minutes in the first half.
In addition to playing small and spreading the floor more on offense, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said the challenge of playing the Clippers without Griffin is Chris Paul becomes much more aggressive.
“Chris takes on a lot more leadership and he becomes a total, total monster,” Popovich said before the game. “He’s got the Kobe-like heart of a lion. He’ll do that while Blake is gone – take a lot on himself and be more demonstrative in scoring and what he’s gotta do to motivate his team.”
Case in point, Paul scored 13 points in the first half and added five rebounds and five assists. The Clippers led 57-45 at halftime.
The Clippers play tonight against the Dallas Mavericks at home on the second night of a back-to-back.
NOTES: Spurs guard Manu Ginobili sat out Thursday’s game due to rest. In Pierce’s first three minutes, he passed Robert Parish for 15th all time in minutes played with 45,705.