The basketball gods are cruel sometimes. The Clippers, and their fans, just went through one of the most dramatic and devastating turnarounds in a 24 hour span in sports history. Just Monday morning, Steph Curry was announced to have a sprained knee, opening a path (a difficult path to be sure, but a path) to the Western Conference Finals. This past afternoon, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul were ruled out for the remainder of the playoffs, all but eliminating the Clippers' aspirations with them. That being said, this game, and this series, is not over.
The first question for the Clippers is what exactly their starting lineup (and rotation) will look like. Austin Rivers will almost certainly be replacing Chris Paul, and Jeff Green seems like a probable bet to replace Blake as the starting power forward. Doc did say they could possibly go big, but a Cole Aldrich-DeAndre Jordan starting tandem sounds like a bad idea. After that, the rest of the rotation is a bit murky. Pablo Prigioni will get some minutes as backup point guard, but Doc might try for some Jamal at point if he gets desperate for offense. Depending on how many minutes Cole receives, Jeff Ayres might also see some time to spot him and DJ. I would guess, however, that Doc moves to a more wing-centric lineup, with Green, Wes Johnson, and Paul Pierce (sad face) picking up most of the spare minutes.
The next question is: how exactly can the Clippers win this? The answer to this is actually pretty simple. They need to defend like they have been defending..... and then up the intensity as much as humanly possible. Austin Rivers is not Chris Paul. He can't shoot like him, pass like him, or run a team like him. However, he is a decent defender—not on Paul's level, certainly, but pretty good—and he must take on the challenge of limiting Damian Lillard as much as possible. Running an offense without your two best offensive players is not going to lead to a whole lot of points, so a "grit and grind" game ala Memphis Grizzlies is the Clippers' best chance of victory. Blake Griffin has been pretty bad defensively this series, and it is possible that the Clippers defense actually improves a bit going forward. Of course, they will also surrender more rebounds, but overall on court quickness should increase.
The key to the Clippers' defense is DeAndre Jordan. And with CP3 and Blake out, he should be the defacto best player and leader on the team (especially with Redick all bruised up). He needs to step up in a big way for the Clippers to win this game and series. After a dominant game 1, he has been inconsistent the past three games, alternating terrific blocks and soaring rebounds with lazy box-outs and bad (even for him) free throw shooting. Mason Plumlee is good, but he should not be impacting the outcome as much as he has the last couple games. DeAndre Jordan had a terrific 2015-2016 season, and has truly developed into one of the best centers in the NBA. He needs to prove it in the coming days. The spotlight is on him.
The Clippers offense, unfortunately, is not so easy to solve. Even a hobbled Blake Griffin is valuable on that end, and Chris Paul is.....freaking Chris Paul. You can't just replace one of the five best point guards ever on the offensive end. The Clippers attack is not going to be pretty, but all they need to do is score more points than the other team. To that end, their role players have to step up. Jamal Crawford needs to be good Jamal rather than bad Jamal. J.J. Redick has to knock down open shots. Jeff Green must attack the basket instead of settling for outside shots. It isn't impossible to think that Jamal gets really hot and scores 30 in back to back games. He is going to get a lot of minutes and a lot of shots, and if nothing else, Jamal can score the basketball. Resting playoff hopes on Jeff Green and Jamal Crawford is not a long term strategy, but it could certainly pay off for a game or two.
And that is the crux of it. I really wouldn't be that surprised if the Clippers won this game. They still have talent, and are going to be coming out of the gates really hard. Winning game 6 in Portland is going to be harder, and game 7 (if it happens) would be the hardest yet. There just doesn't seem like much point to it all. The Warriors lurk in Round 2, and even without Steph Curry, they are far, far too good for this crippled Clippers team to beat in seven games.
All that being said, we are fans, and we should root for the Clippers to go as far as they can possibly go. To that end, Clips Nation (and other Clippers related blogs/fans) are going to be using #MustWinWednesday on Twitter to let the team know we are still behind them. And we most certainly are. Go Clips!
|April 27, 2016, 7:0 PM|
|Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA|
|Prime Ticket, NBAtv, KEIB 1150 AM|
|Series tied 2-2|
|Game 1 - Clippers 115, Trail Blazers 95|
|Game 2 - Clippers 102, Trail Blazers 81|
Game 4- Clippers 84, Trail Blazers 98
|Win-Loss Breakdown (2015-2016)|
|Damian Lillard||PG||Austin Rivers|
|C.J. McCollum||SG||J.J. Redick|
|Al-Farouq Aminu||SF||Luc Mbah a Moute|
|Maurice Harkless||PF||Jeff Green|
|Mason Plumlee||C||DeAndre Jordan|
|98.3 (12th of 30)||Pace||98.0 (T-16th of 30)|
|106.1 (7th of 30)||ORtg||106.5 (6th of 30)|
|105.6 (T-20th of 30)||DRtg||100.9 (T-4th of 30)|
|Meyers Leonard (shoulder) out||
Chris Paul (broken hand) out
Blake Griffin (strained quad?) out