One postseason ago, the No. 4 Seeded Los Angeles Clippers fell to the No. 5 Seeded Portland Trail Blazers in first-round of the Western Conference playoffs in six games. Two big reasons for that is their All-Star duo of lead guard Chris Paul and forward Blake Griffin went down with injuries in Game 4 and that was all she wrote for them. The team, the No. 4 Seed again on Friday night garnered a huge Game 3 win 111-106 on the home court of the No. 5 Seeded Utah Jazz. Unfortunately, they lost the other half of their dynamic 1-2 punch again.
On Saturday, the Clippers announced that Griffin will be shelved for the remainder of the 2017 NBA Playoffs due to an injury to the plantar plate in his right big toe that he sustained in the second quarter off a breakaway layup in team’s victory in Game 3 to take a 2-1 series lead and recaptured home court advantage in the series.
The five-time All-Star will be re-evaluated when the Clippers return to Los Angeles following their Game 4 tilt at the Jazz. Griffin will see, as reported on NBA.com foot and ankle specialist Dr. Richard Ferkel. Griffin will be on the sidelines on Sunday night in a walking boot cheering his team on, according to a report from TNT’s Rebecca Haarlow.
It is another setback for Griffin, who missed 21 games in the regular season because of knee surgery and in the last two years, including the playoffs has missed a total of 70 games.
“You just hate for dumb stuff like this to happen, when you know how hard somebody works.” Paul, Griffin’s teammate since 2011 said as he was holding back tears on Saturday. “The fans, everybody, they don’t get the opportunity to see that. Somebody who’s as dedicated to the process, and the training, and the working out and all the stuff like that. For something to happen. You hate to see it.”
In the 61 contests that he did play during the 2016-17 NBA campaign, Griffin averaged 21.6 points, 8.6 boards and 4.9 assists per contest and in the first two-plus games of the Clippers series against the Northwest Division champions, he was averaging 20.3 points and six boards on 49 percent shooting.
To bring into fuller context what Griffin has meant to the Clippers in the series against the Jazz, in the 232 minutes Griffin was on the court in the first two-plus games, Los Angeles had a point differential of +45 and a +27 differential on the boards. In the 104 minutes Griffin was on the bench, the Clippers only had a plus two-point differential and were a -5 on the glass.
That showed in the Clippers offensive attack on Friday night, where for a majority of the game, Paul ran a pick-and-roll each time, which resulted in him scoring 24 of his team-high 34 points in the second half of the victory, to go along with 10 assists and seven rebounds.
“Last night was one of those survival games. We basically ran a pick-and-roll for Chris every single play. You can’t live that way throughout a series,” Rivers said. “When you lose Blake, you lose a lot. You lose your second-best passer.”
With Griffin gone, the spotlight falls on the likes of J.J. Redick, Marreese Speights, Raymond Felton, DeAndre Jordan, and Jamal Crawford to step up and make up at least for the point production of Griffin.
“I pretty direct. I told them last night Blake’s out. Next man up and that’s basically the lingo we talk in, cause that’s a fact.” Rivers, whose coached Griffin since 2013 said. Rivers added, “You can imagine how heartbroken he is over this. You just feel bad for him.”
If there is one good thing if any about this rough position that the Clippers find themselves in again, is that they are used to playing without Griffin, but in the 21 games that he was out in the regular season they were only 11-10.
While the Clippers will need more from Paul and starting center DeAndre Jordan, who had his third straight double-double of the series with 17 points and 13 rebounds, the Clippers will need J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford, Paul Pierce Raymond Felton, Luc Mbah A Moute and Marreese Speights to be just as productive. Those five combined for 37 points in Game 3, with 15 of them coming from Mbah A Moute.
The bread and butter for the Clippers of putting Paul in the pick-and-roll will not work if that is the only offensive option for the Clippers against the Jazz going forward in this series.
The other part to this that has the Clippers anxious about Griffin is that he is set to be a free agent this summer as he has the option to void the last year of his contract.
If he were play the last year of his contract, he would make near or over $21 million dollars. If he decides to opt out of the last year of his deal and hit free agency, the prospect could be deep or slim, because he is injured right now and the fact that he has played in 80-plus games just three times in his eight-year career. In the last three seasons, Griffin has only played in 67, 35 and previously mentioned 61 games the past three regular seasons.
Paul and Rivers are not only ones disappointed that Griffin will not play for the remainder of these playoffs. Three of his former teammates that are now analyst for the likes of ESPN and NBA TV feel just as bad.
“Man do I feel bad for Blake Griffin. He cannot catch a break,” Chauncey Billups said on the early Sunday morning edition of ESPN’s “Sportscenter.”
Besides Griffin possibly being an unrestricted free agent this summer, so is the starting backcourt of Paul and Redick.
“You want to see him and Chris Paul obviously back together and healthy and going forward because their still young enough to do damage and continue to build,” Caron Butler, Griffin’s teammate back in the 2012-13 campaign said on NBATV on Saturday.
The coach of Clippers then Vinny Del Negro concurred by saying, “Blake is one of the Top 10 players when he’s healthy. They’re going to get the contract done. You’re not going to replace that. They’re winning 50-plus games a year. You start tinkering with it too much…At the end of the day, Blake will get healthy. Blake is a dominant player when healthy. He’s a 20 [points] and 10 [rebounds]. He’s dynamic and it’s just hard to break things like that up.”
For right now, it is about the Clippers taking care of business in Game 4 on Sunday night at the Jazz at 9 p.m. on TNT and trying to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series, which Rivers said of his team, “We’ll be ready.” The future of the team, which will be a big topic in the NBA in the offseason will be handled down the pike in July.
This time is also about making sure that Griffin is mentally okay and to for his teammates to let him know that they are behind in as he will have another summer of rehabilitation both physically and mentally.
“First and foremost, we got to take care of him. It puts things into perspective,” Paul said. “Basketball and the playoffs, that’s one thing, it’s life too. For us right now, we’ll worry about the game when its’ that time, but right now it’s about consoling one of the leaders of our team.”
Information, statistics, and quotations are courtesy of 4/23/17 4 a.m. edition of NBATV’s “Gametime,” with Vince Cellini, Vinny Del Negro and Caron Butler, report from Rebecca Haarlow; 4/23/17 1 a.m. edition of ESPN’s “Sportscenter,” with Kevin Connors and John Anderson, with report from Chauncey Billups; 4/22/17 www.nba.com article “Los Angeles Clippers’ Blake Griffin to Miss Remainder of Playoffs with Toe Injury;” www.nba.com/games/20170421/LACUTA#/boxscore and http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blake_Griffin.