LOS ANGELES -- Just when the Los Angeles Clippers were on the verge of returning to full form, with Blake Griffin eligible to finally rejoin the action at the start of next week, they lost Paul Pierce to a sprained right ankle during their 114-90 victory over the Boston Celtics on Monday night.
Pierce went down during a drive to the basket with two minutes left in the second quarter. He bumped his leg against a Celtic while in the air, then his leg buckled upon landing and his ankle rolled. Pierce grabbed his knee at first. He was helped up, then put his arms around teammates to get to the sideline, before finally heading the rest of the way to the locker room on his own.
A Clippers spokesman said Pierce was questionable for Wednesday's game in Minnesota, but coach Doc Rivers said, "He is going to be out for a little bit," which means Pierce probably would be sidelined for Thursday's game in Oklahoma City as well.
If Pierce stays out longer, through Griffin's return, it will prevent Rivers from getting test runs of his playoff rotations. It would mean more makeshift lineups, less chemistry development. Rivers sounded resigned to that scenario.
"It's just not going to happen," he said. "But our guys are fine. They just keep playing. We're putting different guys in. We've got to figure out who we're going to start while Paul is out. We'll see. It's been one of those years. There's nothing you can do about it. You've just got to keep trying to get healthy for the playoffs.
"As far as having that 'two-week period' [to get ready], that's not going to happen. So I've given up on that part. So we have to figure it out another way."
One thing the Clippers have done well this season is "keep playing" -- through Griffin's quadriceps injury, then the broken hand he suffered while punching an equipment manager and now through the first half of the four-game suspension imposed by the team for the incident. They are 29-14 in Griffin's absence following Monday night's dismantling of the Celtics. They have won three games in a row, beginning with J.J. Redick's buzzer-beating shot against Portland on Thursday, and have played three consecutive halves of good ball beginning with the second half of the Nuggets game Sunday.
The Clippers had scoring from all corners of the roster Monday, with 67 points provided by the bench players. DeAndre Jordan (15 points, 13 rebounds) and Chris Paul (13 points, 14 assists) had double-doubles. Paul settled into a smooth control of the offense, and Jordan's defense had the Celtics so shook that at one point Kelly Olynyk came to a halt, tried a couple of halfhearted pump fakes and then bailed out with a fallaway jumper.
Part of the good play belonged to Pierce, looking more like the Boston version of himself with eight points on 4-of-6 shooting before he went down.
At least it didn't appear to be a season-ending injury, which could have been a career-ending injury for the 38-year-old Pierce. The Clippers could even joke about it.
"Of course the Laker fans thought they were going to bring out a wheelchair at some point," Rivers said, referring to Pierce's dramatic exit and subsequent return in Game 1 of the 2008 NBA Finals that still infuriates residents of Lakerland.
And Jordan's initial reaction to Pierce being out: "More shots for me."