LOS ANGELES -- Before Wednesday's game against the Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers guard Eric Gordon said he was probably going to pass up a few more jump shots than usual in his first game back from a right wrist injury that sidelined him the previous 18 games.
True to his word, he took it right to the basket on the first possession of the game and scored, earning a raucous cheer from the sellout Staples Center crowd celebrating his return. Then he realized the wrist wouldn't be as problematic as he imagined.
He nailed a 21-footer from the right side the next trip down and drew a foul one possession later. By the end of the first quarter, he had attempted six shots and scored nine points. By the end of the game, he had attempted 18 shots and tied for a game high with 24 points in leading the Clippers to a 106-103 win over the Rockets.
Of those 18 shots, nine were outside the key and nine were inside. Gordon made four from each distance, mixing in a wide variety of shots and altogether looking fairly composed on the court -- save for a few brief lapses when it appeared the wrist was bothering him.
"It just felt natural for me to get to the basket," Gordon said, adding that the 18-game break was the longest he's ever sat out in his basketball career. "But it's all about how the defense reads you: If it's a good shot, then take it; if it's not, then pass it up and drive it to the basket.
"I just tried to come out and play well and do the things I know how to do."
Gordon suffered the injury -- initially termed a right wrist sprain but later revealed to also be a small fracture -- during a Jan. 22 home win against Golden State. It was initially a day-to-day deal, and at one point it was questionable whether Gordon would play in the Clippers' next game, on the road against the Dallas Mavericks. But he stayed home for that one and stayed on the bench for the set of games after that, only beginning to shoot within the last week.
It was considered a possibility Gordon could return Monday against Sacramento, but the Clips decided to hold off on it until Wednesday's game. But, Gordon being Gordon, he kept in shape over the five-week layoff and was able to transition right into a starting role against the Rockets, playing a normal 35 minutes.
"The best part about a hand injury or something like that is that you can still get your conditioning, you can still be out there running through some stuff," said Clippers forward Blake Griffin, who helped get Gordon going with assists on his first two baskets. "He wasn't behind in the plays or anything like that.
"He's a scorer at heart, and that's what he does best. I think you saw that tonight."
Gordon's 24 points were tied with Kyle Lowry for tops among both teams, and his nine points in the final five minutes were crucial to the Clippers maintaining the six-point lead they took into the fourth quarter.
Perhaps the highlight of Gordon's night came with the score 91-91 midway through the fourth, when Mo Williams found him for a 3-pointer that broke the game open and sparked Gordon's late run.
"I thought he played well," said the newly acquired Williams, who finished with 17 points and 11 assists while nursing a high-ankle sprain of his own. "Obviously when you're out for a while -- and I can attest to that, I've been injured throughout the season -- the first game back is always tough. But I think the first game back you're gonna have a lot of adrenaline. The second game is the test.
"Like tonight was the test for me, and I thought I did well. He's a young guy, so I don't think it'll bother him so much."
Clippers forward Ryan Gomes said it didn't look like Gordon was bothered at all by the injury, save for a couple uncharacteristic misses in the early going.
"I think he was the same," said Gomes, who assisted on one of Gordon's 16-footers in the third quarter. "I think because it was a wrist injury it was a little bit different, and, conditioning-wise, he was fine. It was more of just getting that range of motion back when he did get injured and I think the training staff did a great job of staying on top of it, getting that motion right."
Williams was more than complementary of his new backcourt-mate, taking a moment after the game when speaking with reporters to explain what he considered unusual circumstances.
"People don't understand," Williams said. "He's coming off a five-week break. It's my second time playing in two weeks, first time playing with him. You gotta understand how big this win was. That's a team that won five games in a row. We were on a five-game losing streak.
"That's a big win."
For the Clippers (22-40), it's a big win that symbolizes some big expectations from here out. All season long, the talk from the Clippers' brass has been that the whole team isn't healthy, and without the whole team healthy, you can't get a proper judgment of what you have as a team.
Now, everybody's (relatively) healthy, including Gordon and Williams -- plus center Chris Kaman, who had 21 points in 23 minutes Wednesday, his seventh game back after missing three months with an ankle injury.
Said Gomes: "Now we get a full look at our roster, a full look at substitution patterns and guys in key situations. I think this is gonna tell how we can be going into next season, even though we have 20 games left."