The Los Angeles Clippers had every reason to enter Monday night’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers with a sense of optimism and urgency. Earlier in the day, it was reported that Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors suffered a Grade 1 MCL sprain that will sideline him for at least two weeks. The Clippers were the Warriors’ presumed second-round opponent, so putting away the Blazers as soon as possible would help maximize their window to play Golden State without Curry.
By the end of Monday night, any and all reason for the Clippers to be excited was gone. They started the game poorly (to say the least), missing defensive rotations, not boxing out, making unforced errors and missing shots they normally make. However, that was just the start of their problems. In the third quarter, Chris Paul’s right hand got caught in Gerald Henderson’s jersey, causing him to fracture his third metacarpal. The early reports are that Paul will likely miss the rest of the playoffs.
To make matters worse, Blake Griffin re-aggravated his left quadriceps injury shortly after Paul injured his hand. Griffin went to the locker room and tried to give it another go later in the game, but he was limping noticeably and eventually had to sit out the remainder of the game. Griffin’s status moving forward remains unclear at this time.
The Clippers’ had a realistic path to the Finals for a few hours on Monday. Now, they can only worry about how their shorthanded roster can overcome the Blazers on Wednesday night in Los Angeles. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are officially engaged in this series after putting up duds in Games 1 and 2. Al-Farouq Aminu finally made the Clippers pay from beyond the arc, knocking down six of his 10 three-point attempts. Also, Mason Plumlee has become a major problem for the Clippers. He showed some skill as a playmaker in Game 2 and is now firing on all cylinders in that role. He posted two points, 10 assists and 14 rebounds on Monday night. The Blazers also abused the Clippers on the boards (68-51), which many predicted would be a major key to winning this series.
The Clippers enter Game 5 with a shorthanded roster and zero momentum. They have dealt with injuries before, but this is a whole other level of misfortune. Austin Rivers has his moments, but the drop off from Paul to him is massive. Pablo Prigioni has done well in spurts as the backup point guard, so there is some hope that he can run the Clippers’ bench unit’s offense. However, the loss of Griffin, in addition to Paul, makes things even more difficult, and it’s hard to envision how this team can overcome the loss of two perennial All-Stars.
Prediction: The Blazers come out with a ton of energy and outpace the Clippers to take Game 5.
Update: The Clippers announced that Paul had surgery on his hand this morning and is out indefinitely. Also, Griffin did not cause any new damage to his quadriceps injury, but he will miss the remainder of the postseason.
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