LOS ANGELES – A somber Blake Griffin limped out of the Los Angeles Clippers' locker room with the worst of ankle sprains. The painful shuffle happened long after Blake watched the last 17 minutes of his team's Tuesday night playoff loss from the training room.
With or without Griffin, Chris Paul and the Clippers are now a loss away from ending the franchise's so-called greatest season in the first round of the playoffs to the Memphis Grizzlies.
"It's a challenge. They are tough at home," Griffin said sitting on a counter, making sure to keep weight off the high ankle sprain on his left foot. "But we've gotten tough wins at their place before. So you can't rule anything out. Obviously, this is it. Our backs are against the wall. We have to play with a sense of urgency or everybody knows what happens."
The Grizzlies took a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series with a 103-93 victory in Game 5. Memphis can advance with its fourth straight win on Friday night. Griffin has two days, which includes a long flight to Memphis, to improve from an injury he suffered Monday at practice.
Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro called the mishap "freakish," saying Griffin was working on a post move while going half-speed in a drill when he landed on teammate Lamar Odom's foot. Griffin received treatment until late Monday night, but wasn't sure he'd play when he arrived at Staples Center. He gutted out 19 minutes with the aid of pain killers, earning four points on 2-of-7 shooting, five rebounds and five assists in Game 5. The athletic training staff took him out of the game for good with 5:39 remaining in the third quarter and the Clippers down 65-56.
Griffin hopes to play in Game 6, but it's tough to expect much production from him.
"I've never had a high ankle sprain before," Griffin said. "I don't think I've ever had [an ankle sprain] this bad before. Normally, I can go in a couple days or the next day. We just got to wait and see. It's two days. I felt good enough at the beginning of the game today, but it just kind of got worse as the game went on. Hopefully, two days of rest and two days of treatment will help me."
In Griffin's absence, Paul scored a playoff career-high 35 points, including 11-of-11 free-throw shooting, and had four assists and six rebounds. But no other Clipper stepped up in this critical game as Paul was the only scorer with more than 15 points.
Paul is averaging 21.8 points per game this series. Outside of Jamal Crawford, the Clippers can't depend on another scorer (maybe a still rusty Chauncey Billups). Inside scoring and rebounds are even bigger problems as Los Angeles has no big man other than Griffin averaging over five points. Starting center DeAndre Jordan is getting beaten up and is averaging 3.4 points and 6.8 rebounds against Memphis.
"C.P. put us on his back, but we got to give him more help than that," Griffin said.
Said Crawford: "It's tough. Blake is such a big piece of what we do. It means everybody needs to step it up a little more."
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If the Clippers are "Lob City," the Grizzlies should be called "Mob City" for their effective physical play that sparked three straight wins. Memphis is succeeding on most hustle plays and is slowing its run-happy foe.
"We haven't done anything yet," said Zach Randolph, who led the Grizzlies with 25 points and 11 rebounds. "We've still got one game Friday."
The Clippers finished the regular season with a franchise-record 56 wins. They won the Pacific Division and swept their cross-town rival Los Angeles Lakers for the first time. Del Negro and his coaching staff have done a respected job this season, but the growing expectations that come with success and title aspirations could put their jobs in jeopardy with a first-round exit.
"You can't control this stuff," Del Negro said. "And I don't waste any time trying to because it's an irrelevant thing. I know what we've done here and the statistics speak for themselves. I expect more from myself. I expect more from myself, the organization, the team and everybody. And that's the way it should be."
The expectations are strong that the Clippers will re-sign Paul in the offseason. The NBA's top point guard loves Los Angeles, has enjoyed his time with the Clippers and views his current franchise as the front-runner, sources said. Even so, expect Paul to do his due diligence in his first true test of free agency, one source said.
Keep in mind that Paul was a restricted free agent when he signed a four-year, $68 million deal in 2007 with the New Orleans Hornets. Losing in the first round could make it easier to listen to suitors. You best believe that Mark Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks, the Atlanta Hawks and the Houston Rockets are hoping for a bad Clippers ending.
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The Clippers' optimistic public address announcer told fans after the game that they will win Game 6 and be back on Sunday for a deciding Game 7. The response: a smattering of claps.
"We've got to be desperate," Paul said. "They say playoffs don't start until someone loses at home. I guess this is our start."
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