Wow. Just...wow. How quickly things can change. After the news that Steph Curry would be out for at least two weeks, the Clippers had to be looking towards the next round of the playoffs and salivating at the chance to face the Warriors without the MVP. And then, just like that, Chris Paul fractured his hand in the third quarter of last night’s contest. The Clippers lost their best player and the head of their Voltron. Unreal.
This series isn’t over. It’s down to a best of three matchup after Portland tied things up, and the Clippers still have homecourt advantage. Anything could happen. But with Paul’s injury looming, the Blazers have an unbelievable chance to make it to the second round.
Damn, the basketball gods are fickle.
Adding insult to injury, Paul was carrying the offense to start. Scratch that, he was the entire offense. He had twelve points early on 6-6 shooting while the rest of his teammates threw up brick after brick after brick. The first non-Paul points came with two minutes left in the first quarter on a made Jeff Green free throw.
Portland’s offense was humming thanks to Al-Farouq Aminu, who finally (finally!) hit a couple of threes. The Blazers were the clear aggressors, backed by a swarming defense, fast break run outs, and some impressive ball movement. Unfortunately, after such a nice start, the offense completely cratered. Portland finished the quarter shooting just 28% from the floor and missed a ton of easy shots near the rim. But they grit and grinded their way to a 24-20 lead after one behind some highlight blocks, superb transition defense, and offensive rebounding.
During the second quarter, well, the wheels fell off. Chris Kaman came in and played like Frozen Caveman Basketball Player, turning the ball over and missing every shot long. The Blazers were able to pace things, but both teams played some terrible basketball. Just awful. The Moda Center was restless and desperate to cheer anything. A near turnover turned into a Moe Harkless dunk, and a blocked shot by Damian Lillard led to an Allen Crabbe transition three. That five point run felt like 15.
But back came the Clippers. They got Portland’s lead to within one—the closest they’d be all night—and had the ball with a chance to take the lead. Coach Stotts decided to hack DeAndre Jordan, and dude legit air balled two free throws. The crowd came alive, Aminu hit a three, and Dame finished a power dunk at the rim. The Blazers would head into the half with a 47-43 lead.
And oh, that fateful third quarter. Paul hurt his right hand contesting a Gerald Henderson drive—he got it caught in Henderson’s jersey and that was it. He asked out of the game and knew something bad had happened, slamming his good hand as he walked back to the locker room to get things checked out. And unless he amputates the thing for an Evil Dead-style shotgun, he’s done for the series. Hey, at least he didn’t punch an equipment manager. (Too soon?)
The weird vibes from the injury carried over to the court. A Jeff Green three at the buzzer made it 66-64 after three, and this had all the makings of a game the Blazers could randomly choke away.
And then Blake Griffin went out, too. He was having trouble with his left quad, the same injury that kept him out of action pre-hand breaking. He went back to the locker room as well, though he returned later in the period and immediately appeared to injure himself even worse. In the waning minutes of the fourth, he looked concerned on the bench while rubbing his bum leg. After the game, Doc Rivers confirmed that his status for game five was about 50/50. I’d feel bad for the Clippers, but that was totally preventable—Blake should not have re-entered the game with it already out of hand.
Much as it was for the first few minutes of the game, the Blazers offense finally looked right down the stretch. CJ McCollum drained a three, Harkless had a nice putback off another offensive rebound, and the Blazers pushed their lead to double digits. It was an open three from Dame, his first clean look of the night, that finally sealed it. The Blazers walked away with a 98-84 victory, nearly topping 100 points for the first time all series. Mason Plumlee had a double double with rebounds and assists, while Aminu dropped a career-high thirty points.
Now, onto game five, where the Blazers have the clear advantage. Without Paul and possibly Griffin, the Clippers should be a rollover. But nothing is ever guaranteed—just look at how last night shook out for proof.