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Los Angeles Clippers' Playoff Run in Jeopardy Following Chris Paul Injury

Sean Highkin@highkinFeatured ColumnistApril 26, 2016

PORTLAND, OR - APRIL 25: Chris Paul #3 of the Los Angeles Clippers walks off the court after he injured his hand in the third quarter of Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Portland Trail Blazers during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Moda Center on April 25, 2016 in Portland, Oregon. The Blazers won the game 98-84. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Steve Dykes/Getty Images

PORTLAND, Ore. — Barely 24 hours after losing Stephen Curry, the 2016 playoffs lost another top point guard, one who might have been set to face the Curry-less Golden State Warriors in the second round.

During the third quarter of the Los Angeles Clippers’ 98-84 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday, which tied their first-round series at two games apiece, the Clippers lost Chris Paul to a right hand injury that was later diagnosed as a fracture of the third metacarpal.

It’s not yet known how long Paul will be out, but everybody involved is preparing for the Clippers without their best player, and the driving force of their offense, for the foreseeable future.

It’s yet another setback in a season that has been full of them for Los Angeles, which was already trying to work Blake Griffin back into shape after he missed 45 games with a quad injury that, by the way, he re-aggravated Thursday night.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers didn’t know whether Griffin would be available Wednesday, when the series resumes at the Staples Center.

But the loss of Paul is more pressing.

He had 16 points Monday, including L.A.’s first 12 of the night. Through the first three games of the playoffs, he’d averaged 26.3 points and 8.3 assists per contest.

“When I knew [Paul] was out for the game, they’re a different team,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “He runs the team; he scored the first 12 points of the game for them; he’s been having an outstanding series. They’re a different team without him.”

During the regular season, the Clippers outscored opponents by 11.7 points per 100 possessions while Paul was on the court, per NBA.com. With Paul on the bench, the Clippers were outscored by 4.4 points per 100 possessions.

That’s a lot of production for Rivers to have to replace on the fly, in the middle of a playoff series. Rivers might move reigning Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford from the bench to the starting lineup or start his son, Austin.

Damian Lillard (left) and Chris Paul
Damian Lillard (left) and Chris PaulJaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

“Oh, gosh, I don’t know,” Doc Rivers said when asked how he’ll fill the void without Paul. “I think with Chris out we may have to make a lot of changes, just to create more scoring. But it’s too early. I haven’t thought much about it.”

It can be tempting to write the Clippers off without Paul, but Rivers would be quick to remind you of the adversity this group has already faced.

“We’re going home,” Rivers said. “All they’ve done is won two games at home, just like we won two games at home. We’ve been in adverse situations all year, guys have come through, and I expect us to do that at our place.”

The Blazers, despite the talent advantage they now have sans Paul the rest of the way, aren’t taking the next three games for granted, either.

Paul defending C. J. McCollum
Paul defending C. J. McCollumJaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

“It changes a lot,” Damian Lillard said. “More so for them when it comes to what they have to do. Their best player goes down, a guy that makes your team go. It's unfortunate for one of the better players in the league to go through injury like that. You don't wish that on anybody.

They still have a really good team. It's not like they have guys that can't play. For us, our mindset, nothing changes. You have to have the same approach defensively and trust each other defensively. And try to just continue to overwhelm them that way.”

The winner of this series will likely face a Warriors team dealing with its own potentially season-altering injury. That’s no source of comfort to either of these teams, who still have to fight it out, a plucky underdog against a former powerhouse now missing one and potentially two key players.

“I’ve said it all year, I don’t dwell on it much,” Rivers said. “My job is to figure out ways of getting us up and ready for Game 5. There’s nobody probably in the league that’s going to replace Chris Paul. So there’s nobody clearly on our team that’s going to do it. But as a group, everybody pitches in.”

The talent disparity might be too much to overcome without Paul, but the Blazers have plenty of questions of their own.

In Saturday’s Game 3 win, Lillard and C.J. McCollum carried the offense. Monday, it was one of their role players—a 30-point effort from Al-Farouq Aminu. The Blazers have yet to play a complete game with their stars and secondary players making shots.

Despite that, the Clippers face an uphill battle without Paul. But they’re not giving up.

“We’re a confident group,” Rivers said. “They won two games at home. Give them credit, I thought they played hard and played well. I thought they killed us in the 50/50 game again. We had so many opportunities to take the lead. We had two fast breaks where we threw the ball away and then they came down and made threes.

But overall, we lose some key guys, but this is a resilient group, and I think we’ll be that in Game 5.”

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