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Blake Griffin plays 29 minutes in return as Clippers fall to Sixers

(Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports)
PHILADELPHIA -- Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin returned to action on Tuesday night after missing 18 games following routine arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Dec. 20.

Griffin, whose playing time was restricted by the coaches at the advisement of the Clippers' training staff in the team's 121-110 loss to the 76ers, logged 29 minutes as he assumed his spot in the starting lineup. He scored 12 points on 3-for-11 shooting from the field and 6-for-10 from the free throw line. He also collected 11 rebounds, made five assists and turned the ball over six times.

"I was sloppy, rusty," Griffin said. "I felt like I had some really stupid turnovers. I probably would've liked to attack more, especially late in the shot clock. A couple times I settled for jumpers. But, I felt fine."

Griffin said his timing and rhythm were the most noticeable challenges on Tuesday night, and at times he struggled to finish plays. He was blocked at the rim on a couple of occasions by Philadelphia big men Richaun Holmes and Nerlens Noel respectively. His most impressive moment occurred in the final seconds of the first half, when he followed a miss by J.J. Redick with an aggressive slam dunk after streaking down the lane.

"I've had some explosive moments, whatever you want to call them, in workouts, playing 1-on-1, playing 3-on-3," Griffin said. "That was put to rest for me. It's good to be able to feel that in a game and get back to that, but I feel like that was already out of my mind."

Though Griffin's return represents a major event in the Clippers' season, his 29 minutes of action was clouded by the team's sluggish second-half performance. The Clippers took a 68-59 lead into halftime, and led by as many as 19 points in the third quarter, but faltered down the stretch against a Sixers team that ranks last in the NBA in offensive efficiency, yet scored 62 points after intermission.

"We didn't play as a team after the eight-minute mark in the third quarter," Clippers center DeAndre Jordan said. "Very disappointing. We're going to get our ass whupped every time if we play like that."

Griffin has intensified his rehabilitation regimen in recent weeks as he neared his return, incorporating full-contact workouts last week against teammates. He said he'll monitor his body for soreness and swelling over the next 24 hours, but doesn't anticipate feeling any serious effects.

"I honestly have had workouts that are twice as hard as this," Griffin said. "As far as body-wise, pounding on my body, I'm lifting, then doing basketball, then doing treadmill and court conditioning all in a day -- it's more than just this. I don't expect to feel anything."

The Clippers compiled a 10-8 record in Griffin's absence, but only 3-7 without Griffin and point guard Chris Paul, who underwent surgery last Wednesday to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb on Jan. 16 after previously missing seven games with a strained left hamstring. Paul's initial timetable was set at six to eight weeks, and he's not with the team on its current road trip as he recuperates.

Mike Woodson assumed head-coaching duties for Doc Rivers, who is battling illness and wasn't with the team Tuesday night.

The Clippers currently sit at 30-17, and occupy the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference. They lead the Utah Jazz by one game in the standings, and trail the Houston Rockets by 3 games.

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