In the beginning part of this season, the Los Angeles Clippers set themselves up to be a team that was going to have a serious say in the 2016-17 NBA campaign as they got off to a 14-2 start. They have come back to Earth a little bit not only going 15-13 since, but they have been without All-Star forward Blake Griffin the last 15 games due to knee surgery. The team has been able to hold its head above water, but they suffered a serious blow on Monday night.
Perennial All-Star lead guard Chris Paul injured his left thumb in the second quarter of the Clippers (29-15) 120-98 victory versus the Oklahoma City Thunder (25-19) trying to defend Thunder lead guard Russell Westbrook.
Paul left the game for the locker room to have his thumb checked out, but he would not return.
An MRI revealed on Tuesday that Paul sustained torn ligaments in his thumb. He underwent surgery to repair his thumb and is expected to miss six-to-eight weeks, according to a report from Dan Woike of the Orange County Register.
Paul missed a stretch of seven of eight games from Dec. 23, 2016 to Jan. 4 due to a left hamstring strain he sustained in the team 106-101 win versus the mighty San Antonio Spurs on Dec. 22, 2016.
To put into perspective what the Clippers will be without their floor general, Clippers went 27-9 with Paul in the lineup, scoring an average of 109.3 points per contest; holding the opposition to a decent 100.7 scoring average and they had a differential of a +8.6. In the seven games that Paul was down, which also coincided with the absence of Griffin, the Clippers lost five of those seven contest. They only averaged 102.9 points per game; surrendered a scoring average of 109.3 and their point differential was a -6.4.
Besides missing his production of 17.5 points, 9.7 assists, which is ranked fourth in the NBA and his second ranked league average of 2.3 steals per contest, the Clippers will miss his leadership and ability to get the team into the right offensive sets.
That was clearly evident in their 104-101 loss versus the Minnesota Timberwolves (15-28) on Thursday night on TNT. They were outscored 60-50 in the second half of the contest, but the guard combination Austin Rivers and Raymond Felton combined for 30 points and 10 assists on 12 for 26 shooting and just two turnovers.
The Clippers will need that kind of production and then some from Rivers and Felton and they will need Sixth Man extraordinaire Jamal Crawford, who went just 3 for 14 off the bench for seven points on Thursday versus the T’Wolves to be much more productive as well as starting shooting guard J.J. Redick who scored just nine points himself on 4 for 11 from the field.
“As a team, we just got to keep playing and trying to win as many games as possible until we can get back to full strength, hopefully sometime in March,” Redick said on Wednesday after practice. “You’re disappointed, but you immediately start to think about solutions. You don’t start thinking about, ‘Wow is me.’”
Clippers head coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers sees this as an opportunity for the rest of the team to step up and make a major contribution, like the new additions to the team this year like Alan Anderson, Marreese Speights and Brandon Bass.
“I think this is a good opportunity for them to learn how to execute together,” Rivers, who is also the GM of the Clippers said on Wednesday. “Because when everybody’s back. When you get Blake and Chris back, if this group can learn execution and you put those two guys back on the floor, I think it makes us better.”
That belief Rivers has for his team needs to come to fruition over the next few games because the road ahead for the Clippers will not be an easy one. Ten of their 11 games will be on the road and of their next 15 games, they will be facing the defending Western Conference champion and rival Golden State Warriors (36-6) three times in that stretch on Jan. 28 on ABC; Feb. 2 on TNT and Feb. 23 on TNT.
They will have some winnable games in this stretch closing out January and in February, going against the likes of the Denver Nuggets (17-24) this Saturday night; at the Philadelphia 76ers 14-26) this Tuesday, Jan. 24; at the Phoenix Suns (13-29) on Feb. 1 and at the New York Knicks (19-25) on Feb. 8.
The two things the Clippers have in their favor is that they have gotten used to being without Paul or Griffin for a stretch the last couple of season when they have been shelved because of injury. Also, it has been reported that Griffin is expected to return sometime next week.
Hopefully he can get back to playing form quickly and the Clippers can get their groove back and when Paul does return be on all cylinders to make a major playoff run and reach the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history.
Information, statistics and quotations are courtesy of 1/19/17 2 a.m. edition of NBATV’s “Gametime,” with Vince Cellini, Dennis Scott and Greg Anthony; www.espn.com/nba/team/schedule/_/name/lac/la-clippers; www.espn.com/nba/statistics and www.espn.com/nba/standings.