Ahead of tonight's game 4 in the Clippers' first-round series against Portland, it seems to me as though this game could serve as a strong indicator of this team's legitimacy in regards to championship contention. I'm not one to look too far ahead or overlook an opponent, and I've been a strong advocate of the Trail Blazers as a worthy adversary, but I'm also a writer on a sports blog, so it really doesn't matter much if I look ahead or not. Without supposing to presume the Blazers' elimination, I can still look ahead at what the landscape could look like.
Injuries are an ugly thing, and as a fan of the game, you never like to see a player get hurt, you never like to see players miss games, and you never like to see injuries lower the quality of play in the post-season. But I didn't have any hand in Steph Curry getting injured and I will have no hand in him staying out, so I won't feel guilty about acknowledging that LAC's long-term path is made much friendlier by the fact that Curry will be missing at least the next two weeks. That looking ahead, however, just makes tonight's game against Portland that much more important.
In the grand scheme of things, Curry's injury, no matter how unfortunate, opens the door for the Clippers in a way that was previously unrealistic. The presumptive second round series just went from the Clippers attempting to pull off one of the greatest upsets in NBA playoff history to a series where pundits are actually (gulp) favoring the Clippers. Which, if you remember LAC's favorable second-round match-up last year, is scary as shit. I'm not a fan of high expectations because the Clippers are seemingly historically doomed to not live up to them, drawing relentless "it's the Clippers" takes, and it's hard to argue after the last few years that this sort of creeping doubt hasn't gotten to this roster.
So, how do you beat that doubt? You don't leave any room for it. That means handling the Warriors while they're missing Steph (even though they're still really good on both ends without him). And even getting to that point means you have to take care of Portland. Early. If round 1 stretches out, if could cost the Clippers a Curry-less game in the second round, which could end up mattering a whole lot. That means the Clippers have to meet the bar that I originally set for them and win this series in 5 games. If they're gonna clinch against Portland in game 5 at home, they need to win game 4 on the road tonight.
Let's retreat from the nauseating, terrifying, exciting optimism surrounding the Clippers' chances on the internet right now, and talk about this game tonight. Because once all of the nervous energy of getting big news settles, one truth always remains: there is always a basketball game, and you always need to win it. It'll be true tonight, it'll be true Wednesday, and it'll be true for every game after that.
In my series preview I went over some key points. Let's look at those, how they've gone so far, and what the Clippers will need to do tonight:
- Is Blake back?
- Lillard and McCollum
- Dominating Down Low
- Suspect Shooters
- Jamal Crawford