Commentary

What happened to Clippers' depth?

With Blake Griffin hobbled, who else is going to step up now besides Chris Paul?

Updated: May 1, 2013, 4:54 AM ET
By Arash Markazi | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- Blake Griffin couldn't move and he certainly couldn't play, but he knew he couldn't stay where he was.

As the Los Angeles Clippers trailed the Memphis Grizzlies by 10 points in the fourth quarter Tuesday night, Griffin was sitting in an ice bucket in the Clippers' training room, watching the game, and perhaps the Clippers' season, unravel before his eyes on a flat screen hanging on the wall.

"I didn't want to be back there," Griffin said. "They had me in the ice bucket for 20 minutes and I was watching the game on the TV in there, and I didn't feel like I was out there with my team, so I just wanted to be out there."

[+] EnlargeBlake Griffin
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsThat Blake Griffin was even on the floor in Game 5 was remarkable. His ankle injury is going to tax the now-questionable depth of the Clippers even further Friday in Game 6 at Memphis.
Griffin managed to get up and limped back to the Clippers bench, still in his uniform, even though he had already been ruled out by trainers and coaches. Moments later, he would limp off the court at Staples Center for potentially the last time this season.

That Griffin was even able to play 20 minutes (scoring four points and grabbing five rebounds) before finally being taken out of the game in third quarter surprised him and several within the organization. They had seen Griffin's right ankle swell to size of a softball Monday after practice, when he suffered a high right ankle sprain.

It doesn't seem right in a series as physical and as intense as this -- with Griffin constantly jostling with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol as if they were in a wrestling match -- that Griffin's season could have potentially come to an end because he landed on a teammate's foot in practice.

"It's one of those things where I honestly didn't believe it happened yesterday," Griffin said.

As Griffin jumped up during a scrimmage to deliver a pass, he landed on Lamar Odom's foot, according to Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro, and limped off the court. Griffin said he knew immediately it was bad.

"I've never had one this bad before," Griffin said. "Normally I can go in a couple of days or the next day."

Griffin didn't sound overly optimistic that he would play or be much of a factor in Game 6 on Friday. He needed to lean on a chair to change into his clothes in the Clippers' locker room after the game. And after he limped out of the room, he sat in the back of a small flat-bed cart that drove him to his car.

"As the game went on, it got worse," Griffin said. "I was in the weight room on the treadmill; they just had me walk just to keep it lose and not just sit there."

For all the talk of the Clippers' depth this season, it's no secret the Clippers' success -- especially in the postseason -- depends on the success and health of Griffin and Chris Paul. With Griffin hobbled and a nonfactor in Tuesday's Game 5, Paul was the only player who stepped up to the challenge -- to the tune of 35 points, six rebounds and four assists.

No other Clippers starter had more than six points, and the only other player in double digits was Jamal Crawford with 15 points. If that's going to be the case in Game 6, the Clippers might as well start making their vacation plans now.

"This was a must-win," Griffin said. "This was the biggest game for us, but we just didn't get it going, and I wasn't able to see a lot.

"CP, to his credit, put us on his back and carried us, but we have to give him more help than that."

That help needs to come in a variety of areas, but in a series largely decided in the paint, on the glass and by both teams' big men, the spotlight needs to be on DeAndre Jordan, who had six points and eight rebounds in 31 minutes in Game 5 but played less than three minutes in the fourth quarter.

Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler didn't see the floor in the fourth quarter, either, as Del Negro went with his younger bench rather than his aging and ineffective veterans.

"We need DeAndre to play big, there's no question," Del Negro said. "Defensively, offensively, being a threat out there on the glass and using his length and athleticism.

"But it's up to him to get out there and earn his minutes and work through anything that is thrown at him during the game."

The problem is that Jordan has failed to live up to the potential that came with the four-year, $43 million contract he garnered before last season.

His free throw shooting regressed from 52.5 percent last season to just 38.6 percent this season, making him a liability at the end of games. Despite not being in foul trouble, he was on the bench in the fourth quarter as Randolph and Gasol combined for 18 points in the final period.

Del Negro paused when asked if Jordan is at a crossroads with the team. Clearly, he needs to step up or the Clippers must find a center capable of playing in the fourth quarter and picking up the slack if Griffin is out.

"I don't know if crossroads is the right word, but there's definitely a level that you have to play at right now than anytime he's had to before," Del Negro said. "He has a much bigger responsibility now. He understands it.

"I haven't seen the consistency that I would like, but I don't think he's seen the consistency he would like," he said. "He's been working and his attitude has been good, but the bottom line is he's got to go out there and produce."

How Jordan produces in Game 6, with or without Griffin, might ultimately decide if the Clippers are able to extend their season to a Game 7 on Sunday back home in Los Angeles.

Paul knows he will not only need help, but a different attitude from his teammates if that's going to happen.

"We have to be desperate," Paul said. "They say the playoffs don't start until someone loses at home; I guess ours just started."

Arash Markazi

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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