There wasn't much hope left for the Clippers after last night, but the few remaining wisps of optimism were cruelly dashed today by an injury update from the team: Not only will Chris Paul miss the rest of the playoffs (as many expected), but so will Blake Griffin, the team announced in a press release (bolding for emphasis mine).
Forward Blake Griffin will miss the remainder of the 2016 NBA Playoffs after aggravating the injury to his left quad tendon last night in Game 4. Griffin underwent an MRI this morning that revealed no further structural damage, and the five-time NBA All-Star will be ready for the start of 2016-17 training camp.
Griffin originally injured the quad on December 25th in a game against the Lakers and missed 41 games this season due to the injury.
Guard Chris Paul underwent surgery this morning in Los Angeles to repair a right hand fracture suffered in the third quarter of last night’s game against Portland. Dr. Steve Shin performed the operation and Paul will be out indefinitely.
The Clippers are no strangers to adversity, but this might be unprecedented even for them — losing both of their two best players (both All-NBA talents) within a span of minutes in the second half last night in Portland. We knew right away that Paul's injury was serious, and it was reported shortly afterward that he had suffered a fracture of the third metacarpal (his middle finger).
There were slim hopes that he might return in the second round if the Clippers managed to beat the Blazers and earn a date with the Dubs — but that's not going to happen now, as he's out for at least four to six weeks before being reevaluated. In theory, he could return if the team somehow made an improbable run to the Finals, but whatever hopes we had of an extended playoff run are certainly up in smoke now.
Meanwhile, the team is taking no more chances with Blake — he's done for the year, 0.0% chance of him coming back. This is the same quad that forced him to miss 45 games after Christmas (and it was clearly bothering him for several weeks before that), and it never fully healed, in large part likely due to mismanagement by the team's medical staff. Both Blake and the team probably knew that they were rushing him back and that he wouldn't ever be at 100% at any point postseason, but it was a risk they felt they had to take. Without Griffin, they had no chance of beating Golden State in the second round; even with a less-than-full-strength Blake, they had a puncher's chance if they caught a lucky break or two.
For a few fleeting hours yesterday, that window of opportunity opened up a crack, with the news of Steph Curry's knee injury. We dared to dream that perhaps things were finally falling the Clippers' way, even with a rusty Blake and hobbled J.J. Redick (who seems to be deteriorating in front of our eyes as the heel contusion suffered in his last regular season game against Memphis takes its toll). Could this be the Clippers' moment?
Instead, we saw that window cruelly slam shut: literally, on Chris Paul's exposed finger, and figuratively, on the hopes and dreams of the Clippers and their fans. With Paul done for the foreseeable future, there's no point in trying to push Blake any further. It's possible that if Paul didn't get hurt last night, Blake would still be playing too, or at least resting with the possibility of a return if the Clippers advanced. Now, he'll likely follow in Paul's steps and also undergo surgery, something he mentioned considering to the media a few weeks ago.
What does this mean for the Clippers? Even tied 2-2 with home-court advantage, they're probably now the decided underdogs against the resurgent Trail Blazers. Offense, not defense, was the bigger issue in their two losses in Portland, and that only becomes harder to address with their best and second-best players on that end out, and the third-best gimpy. There's an outside chance their role players catch fire from deep again and keep the Clippers competitive, like they did in late-season contests in Oklahoma City and Utah, but that's not something that can be relied on.
Doc Rivers will probably stick with a ten-man rotation — DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Jeff Green, Paul Pierce, Cole Aldrich, Wesley Johnson, and Pablo Prigioni — although he suggested that he might mix up the first and second units a little in order to get more scoring on the floor. If he can somehow get the shell of this Clippers team through this round and pick up two more wins, he deserves every coaching plaudit imaginable.
This is a painful moment for Clippers fans, even more so when you wonder if Game 4 was the last time this core would ever step onto the floor together. It's not totally unfamiliar, but that doesn't stop it from cutting the heart any less. This season, one that started with so much promise after a madcap summer, became perhaps the cruelest one yet in recent years. It becomes the umpteenth spring in a row where our hopes and dreams are mercilessly stomped on, and now we're left to deal with the fallout, facing the reckoning of what could be the cruelest summer yet.