In one of the more devastating basketball-only press releases in recent NBA history, the Los Angeles Clippers announced on Tuesday that Blake Griffin will be out for the rest of the postseason and Chris Paul is out "indefinitely." Paul’s right hand fracture and the Griffin’s re-injured left quad will severely derail any hopes the team has of winning its first title.
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In 24 hours, the Clippers went from staring down an upstart-yet-outmanned Portland Trail Blazers team, flush with a 2-1 advantage with Paul and Griffin on board, to a 2-2 series tie in a first-round matchup they might not win. Worse, the Clippers will likely not be able to take advantage of Stephen Curry's two-week (or probably longer) right knee strain in the second round.
Griffin, who has struggled since returning from missing 47 games due to the same quad injury and a broken right hand suffered in a fight with a Clippers staff member, averaged 15 points on nearly 38 percent shooting with 8.8 rebounds and four assists in the postseason. Paul, who allowed the Clippers to circle the wagons and grab the fourth seed in the West with Griffin mostly out, underwent surgery on Tuesday to repair the fracture in his right hand. CP3 averaged 23.8 points, 7.3 assists and 2.3 steals in 31.3 minutes a game against Portland.
The star-crossed Clippers in recent years have moved from the ranks of a laughingstock (despite a few playoff appearances scattered around) to a star-crossed tragic tale. During Paul’s time with the team the squad has been felled by poor timing, bad depth, injuries suffered in practice, and inexplicably poor play at the worst possible time.
Nothing hits as swiftly and decidedly as this, even if the Clippers still have home-court advantage in a best-of three against a Portland team picked by just about every professional to miss the playoffs prior to the season. Among the Clippers players who could see an increase in time, Pablo Prigioni is at his best when setting up plays, however, not registering the assist or scoring when needed. Luc Mbah a Moute is an admirable long-armed defender, but hardly provides the all-around performance that an uninjured Griffin typically contributes.
The Clippers still have DeAndre Jordan in the middle, but he’s averaged just 9.8 points per game in the playoffs, while missing 27 of 40 from the free-throw line (32.5 percent). J.J. Redick has watched as a left heel injury has put a sad cap on what was otherwise a fantastic 2015-16, and though veterans Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers (who may start in Paul’s absence) can help, former All-Star Paul Pierce has missed 5 of 6 shots in 27 postseason minutes.
This is a top-heavy team that just lost its top. An eventual loss to Portland isn’t a sure thing at this point, but it’s not far off.
UPDATE: Jeff Green, and not regular season starter Mbah a Moute, will start in Griffin's place. Austin Rivers is confirmed as the starting point guard.
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